One of the best, most underrated, most versatile actresses working in films and television during the 1960s and 1970s was the chameleon-like Marianna Hill. With a flair for foreign accents and a willingness to change her personality and appearance for each role (she has been blonde, red head and brunette at different stages of her career), Hill graced a wide variety of cinema masterpieces, cult favorites, horror films, and classic TV shows during her 20-plus year career in Hollywood. After building an accomplished, varied and prolific body of work, Hill (a lifetime member of the prestigious Actors Studio) left Hollywood and moved to England in the 1980s to teach Method acting at the Lee Strasberg Studio and its replacement organization, The Method Studio, for over 22 years. During that time--as interest in her work grew and a cult following developed--Hill distinguished herself by focusing on her teaching career and avoiding the limelight. With the exception of rare appearances--including a London "Star Trek" convention in 2012, and the Autographica show in Birmingham, England in 2015--Hill has not made herself as ubiquitous on the convention/autograph show circuit as her peers, and has not given an in-depth interview in decades. (The closest Hill came to giving an interview was her participation, along with director Haskell Wexler and editorial consultant Paul Golding, in the 2001 DVD audio commentary for the film "Medium Cool" (1969) originally released by Paramount Home Video--now featured on the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray for the film--where she offers insight into the making of the film, but scrupulously avoids talking about herself.)
By avoiding the spotlight, Marianna Hill inadvertently made herself more mysterious, intriguing and elusive to fans curious about her life and career, in contrast to her contemporaries who made themselves exceedingly available through internet, social media, and convention appearances. The air of mystery surrounding Hill is heightened by the versatility of her acting work: She was so thorough with submerging herself into a broad range of characters that audiences never had a hint as to who the real Marianna Hill was. Through the years, while researching Hill's life and career, I have heard anecdotes about her from friends and colleagues that heightened my interest in her work. From their stories, I concluded that, during her Hollywood career, Marianna Hill established a colorful and off-beat reputation for herself as a dedicated, courageous actress who never conformed to convention and possessed an independent perspective that reflected a willingness to look at a situation from outside the box. In the course of her experiences, she not only crossed paths with such luminaries as Joan Crawford, Elvis Presley, Klaus Kinski, Haskell Wexler, Clint Eastwood, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Howard Hawks, Lee Strasberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Duvall, James Caan, and Al Pacino, but also such key historical figures of the 20th Century as Studs Terkel and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr.
After years of maintaining a low-key profile, Hill has re-emerged thanks to the current release of the last film she made in America before moving to London, the funny and prescient political satire "Chief Zabu." After sitting on the shelf for 30 years, co-directors Neil Cohen and Zack Norman have mounted a grassroots effort to complete and release the film. It recently enjoyed a week-long awards-qualifying run at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in Santa Monica, California, and had its east coast debut at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. A well-acted and charming farce about a New York real estate developer (played by Allen Garfield) dabbling in politics, Cohen and Norman decided that the time was appropriate to release "Chief Zabu" in the wake of New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump's successful 2016 bid as the Republican nominee for President of the United States. To prepare for its release, Neal Cohen reconnected with Marianna Hill thirty years after shooting wrapped on "Chief Zabu" and invited her to the Los Angeles premiere. Her recent trip allowed her to meet with friends and colleagues from her years in Hollywood. The irony is that her last American film is now her newest film. As a result, Marianna Hill has graciously consented to an interview with Hill Place Blog to help promote "Chief Zabu" and discuss her accomplished and varied career in films and television. In our interview, Hill comes across as colorful, funny, and larger-than-life as I have heard through the years. At the same time, she also proves to be intelligent, forthright, and down-to-earth about her life and career. A study in contrasts, Hill is accessible and kind, as well as very private, which helps maintain her air of mystery and intrigue. I'd like to thank Marianna Hill for opening up her heart and memories for this interview. Special thanks must go to filmmaker Neil Cohen for his generosity in helping to arrange this interview, as well as for sharing his own memories of working with Hill on "Chief Zabu."
Marianna Hill was born Marianna Schwarzkopf, the daughter of architect Frank Schwarzkopf and Mary Hawthorne Hill, a writer who worked as a script doctor during the classic era of Hollywood and was close friends with many film legends. She remains proud of being born into a family of accomplished individuals. Earlier this year, a ranch house in La Jolla, California that her father designed in 1961 was designated as historically significant by the Historical Resources Board of the City of San Diego. In addition to her parents, her grandfather Rudolph Schwarzkopf was a building developer/contractor and civic leader responsible for the growth of the upscale Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia. When her grandfather died, local newspapers noted that he was called "Mr. Arcadia" because of his contribution to the development of that city. Her paternal aunt, Dolly Connelly, was a renowned journalist and photographer for publications such as Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated, covering the outdoor and the environment. Connelly wrote a famous 1965 Sports Illustrated piece covering Senator Robert F. Kennedy's first climb of the Yukon peak named after his brother, John F. Kennedy, and interviewed rock legend Grace Slick for a 1968 Life Magazine cover story. Another aunt--Kathryn Schwarzkopf, better known as Kay Mulvey--was a famous publicist at MGM and was later a popular Los Angeles-area TV personality. Hill is also the first cousin once removed of Major General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr., who served in the United States Army in World War I and World War II and who also investigated the Lindbergh kidnapping case while serving as Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. His son, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., commander of Coalition forces for Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, was Hill's second cousin.
As Marianna Hill recalls, "I was born in Santa Barbara de Nexe in Portugal because my father Frank Schwarzkopf was an architect and he worked on restoring the old churches there. People write that I was born in Santa Barbara, California because they don't hear you and they just put down what they want, but they don't mean any harm. My father was a very talented architect who studied at the University of Edinburgh and St. Andrews University and designed many houses that were built all over LaJolla, California. But he was also very keen on acting--it was his hobby--and he acted under the name 'Frank Rawls.' Somehow or other, he got into these films such as 'Mystery Submarine' which was directed by that wonderful director who made everything beautiful and glowing with color, Douglas Sirk. Daddy actually did a lot more acting work than people realize. He was on 'The Lone Ranger' and was also on a show called 'You Be the Jury' where he played this Judge. His side of the family was Alsatian, which are people who are essentially a mixture of French and German, and he was also part Iroquiois from my grandmother's side of the family. My grandmother was a beautiful woman and was highly intelligent and she attended Stanford, and that's where she met my grandfather Rudy, who was Alsatian. Rudy was a great man. I never loved anybody as much as I loved Rudy. I just worshiped him. He was like a very good, much more handsome Joe Kennedy. He just had that charisma and strength and authority and gravitas, and with even more of a sense of grace and duty. I also have a bit of Dutch blood. My aunt, Kay Mulvey, was a publicist at MGM who was very good friends with Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and all of the big stars. They all loved her and she was a very beautiful woman with sparkling beautiful eyes and red hair. She was gorgeous. I also had another aunt, Dolly Connelly, who was a very famous writer. She traveled the world writing for magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Time, and Life and all of these travel journals. She wrote about the environment and the cultures she encountered in her travels and did things that were extraordinary for a woman at the time. She was a pioneer in photojournalism and she was like Amelia Earhart because she was out there exploring the world living with different cultures and writing about them."
While clearly proud of the Schwarzkopf side of her family, Hill is also quick to point out her mother's accomplishments as a writer, "My mother, Mary Hawthorne Hill, was a screenwriter and she also worked at MGM. She was descended from Nathaniel Hawthorne and George Washington. Her ancestors came over on the third boat after the Mayflower, and helped create the towns of Lowell and Waterford. This was really an old family that Mommy comes from, and somehow or other she inherited that ability to write from some ancestor. When she was very young she was discovered at UCLA, where she had a scholarship. She was such a genius, not that I am, but she was. And she worked at MGM when she was very young from the time she was 17 years old for about 15 years. Louis B. Mayer was like a dad to everybody there. People say he was such a jerk, but according to my mother he was a great man. He protected everybody, he was like a daddy to them. He made sure people went home on time and did their work and he didn't want anybody fooling around and getting into trouble. Mayer always looked out for my mother and protected her from huge stars, who shall remain nameless, who wanted to take off with her for the weekend. He'd say to them, 'You're not taking her anywhere!' because she was a very beautiful young woman and totally innocent. She knew a lot of people who were absolutely fabulous--a lot of the classic Hollywood stars--and so I grew up in that atmosphere. And she would do a lot of ghostwriting for a lot of very famous people who were 'out to lunch' or drank too much. I don't want to mention their names out of respect to them. My mother was introduced to my father because she and my Aunt Kay both worked at MGM. Mommy met Aunt Kay at MGM and Aunt Kay took her over to Arcadia to Grampa's house and that's how she met Daddy. My mother just had this fabulous career and these show business people would show up at my dad's ranch and they'd sort of pass out there because it was so beautiful and full of nature. So that's how I sort of got into acting because I knew all of those fabulous people through my family."
Despite being a very private person who has not given an interview in decades, Hill comes across as an open and accessible, yet respectful, person while talking strictly about her career in a non-sensational manner. Throughout our conversations, she sheds some light as to why she has not sought attention and the limelight in quite some time, "The columnists and writers I did interviews with during my career would say whatever they want. They quote me for saying things I never said, and they wrote that I dated people I've never even met. A lot of the things on the internet about me are wrong because they come from these interviews and columns. That's why a lot of actors don't like to look at their printed interviews, because they just make stuff up. I think one reason why they would write these incorrect and false things is because columnists and writers--and people in the movie and TV industry in-general--thought that all the actresses at the time were the same. They thought we were all like little flowers in a row, and that we were interchangeable. In some ways, we were interchangeable, because we were all the same-looking kind of gal with long hair and people would get us mixed up, but we actually weren't interchangeable because we all had our own distinct personalities and qualities. I was called at least ten different names by people. They'd get me mixed up with everybody, and everybody else in the business got mixed up with me. There were guys who would say that they went out with me and I'd say, 'What?! He went out with me?! What is his name?!' This happened a lot. There was another guy--and he wrote a book and I won't say his name--but he wrote that I dated him and I swear to God I never met the guy! I went up to this one guy at Canter's Delicatessen because I got sick of hearing about him saying that I used to go with him. My friend Sacha told me, 'Listen, Marianna, I'm always in Canter's and he says that to me and other people there.' And I said, 'Why is he saying it to you? He knows that I know you. Well, I'm going to talk to him about this.' So I went in there one time and I confronted him and said, 'Listen, what is this? You went out with me? What are these expressions you're using about me?...You sound like you're at war with me!' And he asked, 'Oh...uh...uh...Who are you?' I said, 'My name is Marianna Hill.' And he said, 'Oh! You're not the one I'm talking about!' And I thought, 'Oh, brother!' (laugh) I also recall having dinner in restaurants and people would come up to me saying, 'I loved you in 'Birds Land on Mars!' and I'd respond, 'Well thanks!' and then I'd think, 'Oh my God. They think I'm so-and-so.' (laugh) But this was Hollywood and people thought all the girls looked alike and thought we were all the same. I think, because of this, people would get us confused and write false and incorrect things about us and now these things are all over the internet. I wish there was some way you could take these things off of the internet. Some guy who is a phony cousin is on the internet saying he's related me. I don't even know him, but he says he's my cousin and he tells stories about me. I don't even remember what he's called, I can't even deal with it but, anyway, people just make things up."
In addition to her own experiences with the press and the media, Hill credits her mother and her grandfather for influencing her to maintain a private perspective with her life, "People have said, 'Marianna, why don't you write a memoir? You've been around, you know this guy and that woman.' So I know a lot of stuff about people, but I can't reveal it. I'm not going to dish the dirt about all of these people that I know and betray a trust, and my mother was the same way. She worked at MGM and she knew who killed that person with their car, and she knew who drank and who wound up on the beach with so-and-so, but she would never crack, never reveal anything! I learned from her, 'Don't gossip about the people that you knew or worked with! Just shut up!' People that I've known have done all kinds of foolish things--and I acknowledge that I've done some foolish things in my lifetime as well--because we're human and we make mistakes and we learn from them. I don't want people to say stuff about me and I won't say anything negative about them. I'm happy to praise and pay tribute to the wonderful people I knew and worked with, but I don't believe in gossiping about their personal life. Another reason I rarely talk about the past is because I also remember my grandfather would say, 'You just must keep going forward! Don't look back, keep going forward!' So I did."
While describing her childhood, Hill recalls that "We lived in La Jolla, California when I was very young and I was very fortunate that as a young girl, physically, I was the size that I am now when I was 11 years old. And my mother's friend Joan Crawford said, 'Look, Mary, that girl's an actress.' And my mother said, 'I don't know about that, are you sure?' and Joan said, 'Yeah, I can spot one a mile away! That kid's tough! You don't even know she is. Don't worry about that kid! Put her to work! She's an actress!' My mother would say, 'She's too young!' and Joan would say, 'No, she's not! Just shove her out there!' Anyway, that's what happened. My mother said, 'Marianna, you don't really know how to be an actress,' so she put me into an acting class at an early age and, also, I served as an apprentice backstage at the La Jolla Playhouse. They let me go to work when I was very young. There were wonderful actors who worked there, James Mason and James Whitmore and Eartha Kitt and these were wonderful performers. I was not a normal person as a child. (laugh) When I was very young, we lived on my grandfather's island on British Columbia. There was a gypsy woman who lived there who told my mother, 'Mary, don't worry about her. She's like an old soul, and she'll make a lot of mistakes, but she'll come out all right.' So Mommy never worried about me. She never worried if I was working with much older people and I was about 11 or 12 years old. I never looked my age and I lied and put 10 or 12 years on my age, anyway, because I didn't want people knowing I was just this kid. So I wasn't this normal kid. I was like this old person in this young person's body. Even when I was 6 years old I would have these strange premonitions about things--not that I'm superior or psychic--it's just that I was never young. And I have pictures of myself with my cat when I was around 6 years old and I looked around 50 years old. It's just one of those things that sometimes happens with kids."
Hill's first professional job on television was on the CBS soap opera "For Better or Worse." Hill recalls, "'For Better or Worse' was one of the things I did when I shouldn't have been working because I was underage. My agent Walter Kohner, who was a friend of my dad's, didn't know I was that young. It's a long story, but my mother had died when I was very young and Walter said, 'Well Marianna should go over and sign up with the Screen Actors Guild.' How I got that part in 'For Better or Worse' was kind of a convoluted social story. I went somewhere and some man met me and he got me mistaken as being part of the Miss Universe contest. All of those people had to be 18 years old or over. So I just (laugh) told a bunch of stories because I wanted to get to work professionally. And then Walter sent me to the Screen Actors Guild to get signed up and I added about 12 years onto my age because nobody knew any better. In those days, nobody knew to ask 'Where's your I.D.?...Where's your driver's license?'--Nothing!--because I didn't look like a kid. I remember I'd be working with people and they would be confiding in me about their love problems and I didn't know what they heck they were talking about! I didn't understand because I was still innocent. (laugh) But it was great because here I was around all of these adults and picked up all of this information and got to work when I was young, which was so important to me!"
After working on daytime TV in "For Better or Worse," Hill quickly became a guest star on countless prime time television shows of the era. Hill first debuted in prime time in the Western series "Tate" in the episode titled "A Lethal Pride," which aired on NBC on July 20, 1960. Hill played a Mexican girl raped by a wealthy American boy Clay Barton (Ronald Nicholas). Her father Arriaga (Gregory Morton) hires one-armed gunman Tate (David McLean) to bring Barton to justice. Hill recalls, "David McLean was Walter's client. He was lovely and had a beautiful, characterful face. I remember Walter saying, [Austrian accent] 'Marianna, you are to go to work on this show called 'Tate'!' So I just went over there and got to work. I didn't audition or anything because he handled David McLean and the Kohners handled the whole show. By that time I had proven myself. They would send me out to do a lot of plays, because the Kohners would say [Austrian accent] 'You need more experience!' And so I did all of these plays out in the Valley in these really tiny theaters. Because all of their clients were Europeans, we would do plays such as 'Lillian' by Ferenc Molnar, 'Look Back in Anger' by John Osborne, and even Sandy Wilson's musical 'The Boyfriend.' It was wonderful because it kept us in a place where we were attempting to do the very best we could do. After 'Tate,' I was guest-starring on many TV shows. It was not a whirlwind or overwhelming, it was wonderful, because it's what I wanted and expected from myself."
Marianna Hill's first major television credit was a recurring role in the NBC Western series "The Tall Man," a fictionalized drama of the Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett legend. Clu Gulager starred as Billy Bonney, trying to go straight and reform, with veteran actor Barry Sullivan playing Pat Garrett as a fatherly mentor to Billy. Hill played Rita, Billy's Mexican girlfriend, in five episodes throughout the first and second seasons of the series. Hill vividly recalls how "The Tall Man" was a turning point for her as a young actress because of "working with Barry Sullivan. Barry Sullivan was this incredible guy. What he had was something that a lot of people don't seem to understand anymore. He was a gentleman who had a proper demeanor, behaved in a kindly and gentle manner, and turned up on time and did his work. He'd come to the set and would just sit there and study his lines and I'd ask him, 'What are you doing now, Barry?' because I was eager to learn. And he'd say, 'Well, I'm learning my jokes,' because he'd call the lines of dialogue, 'jokes,' which is an old kind of Broadway expression. I've told this story before to people and they ask me, 'What do you mean? You learned about acting from Barry Sullivan?' And I'd say, 'Not exactly, but yes in a certain way I did because of his complete focus on what he was doing.' He just was quiet and he'd watch everything and then he'd go right into his work. Hit his marks. Boom! That was just the greatest education. There are still a few people now, like Tom Hanks, who have that incredible sensibility. So anyway I watched how Barry Sullivan behaved, how dignified he was, how kind he was to people, how he never had any tantrums or acted like a fool or anything. Everything I needed to know about being an actor, I learned from him."
After making numerous television guest appearances, Hill made her feature film debut in "Married too Young," a juvenile delinquent melodrama starring Harold Lloyd, Jr. as a teenage race car driver who gets involved with a stolen automobile ring run by the mob so that he can support his young bride Jana Lund. Hill played Marla, the prototypical "bad girl" who is friends with Lloyd and Lund's characters. She next appeared on the horror film "Black Zoo," produced by Herman Cohen and starring Michael Gough as a zookeeper who uses his animals to kill his enemies. "Black Zoo" would be Hill's debut in a genre in which she would make occasional appearances throughout her career. Even though these films launched her big-screen career, Hill candidly admits that she remembers very little about them, "I don't remember much about making 'Married too Young.' I only remember how Harold Lloyd, Jr. was this very sweet guy. 'Black Zoo' also doesn't ring a bell at all. I wish I could remember the plots of movies and shows I worked on. I don't mean to be a jerk and not care about my work, because I do, but the plots kind of blend together sometimes. I think it could be because I worked so much during that time and also because I'm a survivor of an era where a lot of people from that time are not with us anymore. A lot of things have happened to them on their journey but the thing is that I'm still here and I'm in good health and I still look OK. Sometimes your mind shuts certain things out so that you can keep going."
Returning to television, Hill continued making numerous guest appearances on the top shows of the era. She appeared in the April 18, 1963 episode of the classic CBS series "Perry Mason" titled "The Case of the Greek Goddess" where she played an innocent Greek girl who is caught in the middle of a murder investigation and trial when the American artist who hired her to model for a sculpture is accused of murdering her mother. Hill recalls that, "Raymond Burr was just the nicest man, the warmest person with the greatest sense of humor. I loved him, he was just wonderful. He had this warm, sunny, lovely gentleness that just radiated from him and he was very funny. I remember he made very subtle cracks the whole time we were working like, 'How about this stab wound here?' He was just great to be around and was like a warm, cuddly Teddy Bear."
Later that year, she appeared as an orphaned young woman caught in a battle for control of a farm between its rightful owners, and a ruthless family of hillbillies determined to steal the property, in the December 28, 1963 episode of the CBS series "Gunsmoke" titled "Pa Hack's Brood." As with "Perry Mason," Hill admired her leading man and vividly recalls how "The storyline was about a bunch of hillbillies and Lynn Loring was also in it and she was lovely. I mainly remember James Arness because he had such a fantastic presence and he was so wonderful. He was like the new John Wayne, you know, the John Wayne of TV! He had this wonderful grace and presence that was just manly. I just loved working with him."
Hill next guest starred as a seductive Mexican girl who wins the heart of all the Cartwright brothers in the light hearted "Bonanza" episode titled "Ponderosa Matador" that aired on NBC on January 12, 1964. As with "Gunsmoke," Hill enjoyed working on this episode because of the opportunity to work with her leading men Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon. Hill recalls, "When I was a kid I worked at the La Jolla Playhouse and Lorne Greene was in a show that Jose Ferrer wrote called 'Edwin Booth,' which was about the brother of John Wilkes Booth, who killed President Lincoln. Edwin Booth was a great actor in London, but because of his brother killing the President, he was just disgraced and ruined. The play was about people kicking Edwin Booth out of the business and that's how I knew Lorne. He was great and Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon were so fascinating because they were all down to earth. They became so imbued in their characters that they really were the people they played. They weren't acting. They just *were.* And many an instance, they'd sit on the set and they'd talk about their real estate, just like they did in the show. They would say, 'I've irrigated the land and got the 10 acres there and we're going to develop it and we'll use the proceeds to feed the Mexicans living there,' or they'd say, 'Well, now we've got the orange grove and what are we going to do? There are all of these people there who were interred in the Japanese work camps years earlier and we've got to put them to work.' They were very socially minded people and they were very politically advanced. They really wanted to help people with their purchase of land by growing crops and taking care of the locals. They were good people who were highly moral and principled guys. They completely echoed the people they played."
Continuing to appear in some of the most notable TV shows of that era, Hill guest-starred on the "I, Robot" episode of the classic ABC science-fiction anthology series "The Outer Limits," which aired on November 14, 1964. Hill played Nina Link, the sincere and concerned niece of scientist Dr. Charles Link (Peter Brocco), who has created an intelligent robot named Adam. When Dr. Link is accidentally killed, and Adam is wrongfully blamed for his creator's death, Nina hires attorney Thurman Cutler (Howard Da Silva) to defend Adam at trial to prevent local authorities from dismantling the robot. A thought-provoking allegory debating the definition of humanity, the "I, Robot" episode remains one of Marianna Hill's most notable acting credits. As Hill recalls, "What was really great about 'The Outer Limits' was that it had the same energy as the 'Star Trek' set. Everybody felt a big high and innocence while working on those shows. There was no hanky-panky, no flirtations, there wasn't any ego on those sets. The people working on 'The Outer Limits' were totally committed to their work and infused with this passion and creativity. The robot in this episode was a very good and insightful character because he was almost human. He had goodness in his heart and he cared about humanity and he demonstrated that by saving that little girl at the end of the episode when she ran out into the street and he sacrificed himself by pushing her out of the truck's path. 'The Outer Limits' was a very idealistic show because it demonstrated that there was goodness in this man-made machine. I loved the script and thought the show was great since it showed how human beings could create this machine that was imbued with goodness because they had put their good consciousness into that robot. I also liked how the show demonstrated that the bad people in the storyline didn't understand that and wanted to take him apart. It's just like in real life: There are people who close their eyes to the innovation and wonder around them and don't get anything. 'The Outer Limits' was great because it was a show that examined the ongoing dilemma between good and evil, and so the set had an incredible energy and enthusiasm because everybody was excited about the concepts it was examining. We were all engaged with the issues and the plot and the theme of that show when we made that episode, and that's why it has resonated through the years. That gave us this blast of energy that you don't always get when you're working. As an actress, you have your own energy, of course, but some shows engender it where you are able to connect with that wall of energy on the set and 'The Outer Limits' was that kind of a show. Audiences picked up on that energy because they saw something pure, clean and genuine coming straight at them from 'The Outer Limits,' as well as 'Star Trek.' Both shows gave them a great belief that something wonderful was just around the corner."
Hill returned to the big screen with small roles in major studio productions such as "Wives and Lovers" (1963) starring Janet Leigh and Van Johnson (where she played a young girl who greets Jeremy Slate as he enters the bar at the Algonquin hotel); "Roustabout" (1964) starring Elvis Presley (where she plays one of a pair of attractive carnival performers who Presley flirts with by stealing their towels and robes while they are taking an open-air shower--it would be the first of her two films with the singing legend); and "The New Interns" (1964) starring Dean Jones, Stefanie Powers, Michael Callan and Barbara Eden (where Hill played an attractive party-goer who flirts with married Dean Jones). Even though she had already played featured and leading roles on television, Hill recalls that "The director of those films, John Rich, was a friend of my mother. They had gone to school together and he was a wonderful man. In those movies, I had to do something like come in and wave at the other people. I didn't care about how small my parts were. I just wanted to try different things and be a good actor and support the rest of the cast."
After building up credits and experience, Hill landed the meatiest role of her career thus far by playing an exciting French girl who romances brooding race car driver James Caan in legendary director Howard Hawks' "Red Line 7000" (1965). "Red Line 7000" was Hawks' attempt to examine the zeitgeist of 1960s youth, the story of three race car drivers and the women who love them, and attempted to use the film as a vehicle to discover new young talent. As the wise, sophisticated and independent Gabrielle Queneau, Hill effects a very convincing French accent and performs with uninhibited gusto and abandon as she dances up a storm in sequences set at a nightclub and in front of a Pepsi Cola machine at a motel, with rock and roll versions of "The Old Grey Mare" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad" blaring on the soundtrack. She effectively balances moments of comedy and drama throughout "Red Line 7000" to create a sympathetic, intelligent, and substantial character. Hill recalls landing the role because "Howard Hawks was looking for new people because he made the incredible discovery of Lauren Bacall, as well as other people that became great stars. He wanted to do this again and create a cadre of performers that would belong to him, like the MGM players. He watched a television show that I was in called 'The Greatest Show on Earth' where I was this performer on a circus trapeze, which was a terrific show because we had really good actors on that. So Howard Hawks saw it and he thought, 'I'll put that gal to work.' I didn't have to test for him because he liked what he saw in that TV show, and he knew that I could cut the mustard. So that's how I got that job."
Once Marianna Hill started working with Howard Hawks, she quickly realized she was in the presence of a filmmaking legend and deeply appreciated the experience and the guidance he provided as a director, "He was just a wonderful guy! He'd tell me these incredible stories about all the stars from the classic era like Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck and all of the things he experienced and created. He was incredible. It was like being with the encyclopedia of the film business. As a director he was a genius. I just wanted to make him happy because I thought, 'This man is one of the Monarchs of Hollywood. He's like the King Solomon of the business, so I've got to do the best possible job!' So I just went in there and I was breathing fire! And I got to be French in that role, and when you get to be French that frees you because they have a whole different sensibility. Once you start doing that accent it just kind of takes over."
Hill has very fond memories of working with her co-stars on "Red Line 7000" and recalls how: "Laura Devon was so beautiful. She was a fabulous being! I loved her! I remember we were just so protective of Gail Hire because Howard would just say, 'So, Gail, I want you in this scene to do this.' Jimmy Caan and I were experienced actors and Howard would also give us all of this directorial stuff, which we knew what to do with, but Gail didn't. She had had no experience, and she was just in shock. So Jimmy and I would do our best to help her. I would say to Gail, 'Why don't you try to use this for the scene?' and Jimmy would try to encourage her by saying, 'Yeah, try that!' but she didn't get the lingo. If she had had a couple of years of solid experience and training, she would have been wonderful."
In addition to working with Howard Hawks and her other co-stars, Marianna Hill enjoyed making "Red Line 7000" because of her experience working with James Caan, who was at the beginning of his career. Hill recalls how, "He was just lovely! He had this incredible energy and look what he became. He shot to the top and became the next big star with 'The Godfather.' His work as Sonny Corleone was marvelous, he stole that movie. He was just extraordinary. He was so great in those scenes where he beat up whats-her-name's husband, and then he got shot and died in a hail of gunfire! What a performance! He's a great actor and a great person. I'm just very proud to have worked with Jimmy Caan."
Despite the good reviews James Caan and Marianna Hill received for "Red Line 7000," the film did not have as big an impact as it should have had on her career because, as a whole, it received poor reviews. Hill candidly, yet respectfully, explains, "The problem is that it failed. I went to the screening and, like Humpty Dumpty, they couldn't put it together because it was broken. The main reason is that the chemistry didn't work with most of the actors. Now, Jimmy had been in New York working on stage and television. I'd been appearing on everything, so here you had a couple of people who were like dynamite charged up to work and we were ready to go. However, some of the people Howard discovered were very beautiful people, but they didn't have the experience of being actors before. Some of them had come from the modeling world and were, therefore, untrained and inexperienced, and that's why the chemistry between them didn't work. There's no doubt they could've had great chemistry had they had more training and experience, because they were lovely, good people who worked very hard on that film. Howard was used to trusting people like the fabulous Lauren Bacall. She was a model and her name was Betty Perske from the Bronx, but she was like this fabulous, automatic star. He was very fortunate with that, and he just had an eye for that, and I'm not quite sure why it didn't work as well in this instance. But, the deal is, it was out of my hands. At the end of the day, movies are ultimately out of your hands."
As a result of the good reviews she received for "Red Line 7000," Hill suddenly found herself fielding offers of long-term contracts with Paramount, the studio that released the film, and with Howard Hawks himself. As Hill recalls, "After 'Red Line 7000,' everything went pear-shaped because Howard came to me with a contract. He said, 'Oh, Marianna! I want you to be in my next film, 'El Dorado,' because this chemistry worked out with you and Jimmy Caan and I want to recreate it there. I'd like you to sign a contract with me.' However, I couldn't accept Howard's offer because I was about to sign a contract with Paramount. I was very fortunate to have been offered both contracts, but it was a complicated situation choosing between them. I ultimately accepted Paramount's contract because it had been offered to me first, and they were expecting me to sign it, so I felt it was the honorable thing to do. As a result, Howard went in a different direction with that role. I would have loved to have worked with Howard and Jimmy again, but it wasn't meant to be. I will always be grateful to Howard for hiring me to do 'Red Line 7000.' Somehow I've survived the ups and downs of the business, and things turned out OK in the end, so the gypsy on my grandfather's island who said to my mother, 'Mary, do not worry about your daughter!' was right."
After accepting the Paramount contract, Hill found herself cast as the second female lead in the Elvis Presley vehicle, "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" (1966). Often cast as ethnic types, Hill now found herself playing Hawaiian nightclub singer Lani Kaimana, one of several women who Presley's character romances while manipulating them to help his helicopter charter business. Hill relished the opportunity to work more closely with Presley. After briefly working with him on "Roustabout," it was not until she did "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" that she really had an opportunity to get to know him. As she recalls, "Paramount put me in an Elvis movie, and that was a wonderful experience. I'm so glad I had the experience of knowing Elvis. What a fabulous talent! He was a force of nature! He just came out of the earth with this voice that was this brilliant culmination of humanity. He was King of the World and yet he was the sweetest person you ever met in your life. He had his friends around him and they would all bring their lunch pails and their briefcases. I'd say, 'I want to know what's in those briefcases!' and they'd say, 'No, you can't look in them!' and I said, 'Oh, yes I will!' So I looked in one of the briefcases and somebody had a bunch of comic books and Coke bottles. It wasn't for Elvis, it was for his friends. They were reading comic books and drinking Coca Cola. Those were his buddies and they loved him and were there to protect him. At the time, I wondered if their presence kept him from the world, so to speak, and in a cocoon. But I now realize that a lot of it had to do with their desire to protect him because he was truly innocent. He was who he was because he was pure and he didn't put on airs to cover up his insecurities. He simply *was,* and that was his great gift."
In "Paradise, Hawaiian Style," Hill distinguished herself as one of the few actresses--Ann-Margret, Juliet Prowse and Nancy Sinatra being some of the others--who performed a duet with Elvis Presley on-screen. She performed the sensual and playful "Scratch My Back (Then I'll Scratch Yours)" with Presley in a club sequence early in the film. Hill humbly recalls, "I'm not the greatest singer or dancer but I rehearsed it over and over again. These wonderful people helped me do it because--this lovely couple who were choreographers--they said, 'Oh, Marianna, we know you don't think you can do it.' I said, 'What am I supposed to do?' And they said, 'We're going to get you through it.' They just worked with me on it and somehow we did it. We rehearsed it all the time, it became tattooed on my soul so that I can do it even now, because I wanted to be good with Elvis."
Because co-star Suzanna Leigh, a blonde actress from England, was dating Elvis Presley during the filming of the movie, she urged Presley to make Marianna Hill, who was blonde at the time, wear a black wig for the film. Leigh describes the incident in her memoir, "Paradise, Suzanna Style." This change in appearance may be one reason why Hill's character was portrayed as Hawaiian in the storyline. When asked, Hill confirms the veracity of Leigh's admission, "Yes, that's true. I remember it was such a terrible wig, but let me tell you something: I actually had very light hair at the time, but I look good in black hair and I don't know why. Maybe it has to do with my dad being half Native American. Even though they dressed me like some kind of dog, because it was not a pretty wig, somehow I looked fine! I never saw the movie, but I enjoyed wearing the wig. I always liked wearing subdued, different looks so I don't have to be me. It's much easier to be some other character than to be me. My friend Devon Rachel was this psychic and she read everybody like Aristotle Onassis and she once said to me, 'Oh, Marianna, just be yourself.' I joked, 'I don't know how to be me! I can turn into anything, but don't tell me to be myself! Which one of them?! I've got about four thousand of them living rent free inside my mind!' (laugh)"
Even though Suzanna Leigh made Hill wear a black wig in "Paradise, Hawaiian Style," she still enjoyed working with Leigh and the other female co-stars in the film, including Julie Parrish and Irene Tsu, "I love Irene Tsu. She's the most wonderful girl and we were friends for many years. She's fantastic! I think about her a lot because a lot of the people from that film are gone. Irene was such a fabulous goddess and such a wonderful gal! Julie Parrish, who was also a wonderful girl, passed away and went off to Heaven. She's up there with God and the Angels now. I really dug Julie Parrish, and I also liked Suzanna Leigh. I ran into her in London. She said, 'Oh, Marianna! I've felt such guilt for what I did to you.' I said, 'What for? What did you do to me? You're great!' And she said, 'I made you wear that wig!' So I reassured her, 'I looked fantastic when I wore that wig! What a big problem to have! I didn't have an issue with the wig! Put anything on my head, I don't care! I did a movie once called 'The Traveling Executioner' where I was bald and that was fantastic, so who cares about the wig?' (laugh)"
After "Paradise, Hawaiian Style," Marianna Hill's contract with Paramount came to an unexpected and abrupt end during the transition that took place when the studio was sold to the American conglomerate Gulf+Western, run by industrialist Charlie Bluhdorn. As she recalls, "The Paramount contract ended because of a change in management. That's what happened and I can't get involved in the politics of it all. That's just fate. You just have to keep going and get other work if you can." Despite the end of her contract, Hill forged ahead and continued to have a long association with the studio, appearing in many of their TV shows and feature films through the years. Notable among the many TV guest roles after her Paramount contract ended was her appearance as Starfleet psychiatrist Dr. Helen Noel in the "Dagger of the Mind" episode of "Star Trek," which aired on NBC on November 3, 1966. The ninth episode of the first season of the iconic science fiction series, "Dagger of the Mind" concerned the Enterprise's inquiry into a planet housing a rehabilitation facility for the criminally insane. Hill's character, Dr. Helen Noel, assists Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in investigating the facility's questionable rehabilitation methods. Perhaps the most famous of Hill's television guest roles, she has vivid and positive memories of the experience and of her association with the "Star Trek" franchise, "Nobody had any idea about 'Star Trek' and how it would become so successful. I remember Walter called me and said [Austrian accent] 'Oh, Marianna, I've got you this new show, 'Star Trek.' I don't know anything about it, I don't know what it's about, I don't know if it's any good.' So, of course, I went over there and did 'Star Trek' and we *know* what 'Star Trek' is! I've got these cards, they have pictures of me all over it, I threw some of them at the audience at the 'Chief Zabu' screening last night and they really were happy to get them, those kind of little laminated cards. 'Star Trek' is bigger than all of us! There are people that truly believe in Kirk and the Klingons and the Federation and the Prime Directive, whatever it is that they teach or talk about on the show. I just remember that it was the funniest show, the greatest experience working with those guys. I loved it!"
As a result of her appearance in this episode, Hill made a rare public appearance at a 2012 "Star Trek" convention in London. Despite not being used to the atmosphere of the convention circuit, Hill enjoyed herself, "The 'Star Trek' people have invited me to some conventions which are so much fun because the Trekkies show up in these wonderful costumes! And people are so positive about it all. It's given them some sort of belief in something with regards to the future! At first I didn't understand it, and then I went and thought, 'Oh, my God! Look at this! It's a phenomenon!' And it's created a belief system that's so supportive and so positive and that's why it's gone on and on!"
Marianna Hill memories of working on 'Star Trek' remain vivid, as she enthusiastically recalls her memories of working with Leonard Nimoy, "He was the sweetest person in the whole world. The most sensitive, caring, deep kind of a guy. He was just adorable. I had worked with Leonard before on 'The Tall Man,' where he played the Sheriff, and on 'The Outer Limits,' where he played a reporter. I remember, when we worked together before 'Star Trek,' he was uncertain about his career and he confided in me about it. He knew he had something special to offer as an actor and, up to that point, he hadn't been given that opportunity to demonstrate those qualities that every performer hopes for. He was simply concerned, as all talented actors do, that he hadn't landed that right part. He wasn't going to find it on 'The Tall Man,' where he wasn't given much to do except to arrest Billy the Kid, or even 'The Outer Limits.' That opportunity finally came when he donned those pointed ears on 'Star Trek' and all of that beautiful sensitivity, idealism and depth was finally put to use. Usually, when people stick it out, they eventually land that opportunity and that's what happened when he found Spock. It gave him that wonderful freedom to be the glorious person that he was."
Hill's enthusiasm for 'Star Trek' continues as she goes on to praise William Shatner, "William Shatner's fantastic! Nobody understand's Shatner--some people, maybe, although I don't know if I have the brains to understand him--but he has this incredible drive which I recognized. I thought, 'I know what he's doing. He just wants to be the *best* that he can be.' He had this *incredible* energy and the two of them, Nimoy and Shatner, worked so well together because they pulled down stuff from each other's energy. Leonard has this kind of saturnine sort of depth, and Shatner was just this *alive* guy who wanted to do the best! We'd be on the set and he'd say, 'Let's do it this way, let's try it that way!' That's how I like to work, and I'd say, 'OK, let's do it!' and we were just like very excited children! We would say to each other 'I want to play it this way' or 'Do you like how I do it that way?' We would do all of these different set-ups because, with Shatner, he allowed us to do that. He was great and he fought for his character and people didn't understand that. They thought he was temperamental. He was *not* temperamental. He was a very caring and highly motivated professional. He came from the theater and he had that work ethic, just like Barry Sullivan. He just cared about the work and wanted to do the very best that he possibly could have done. A lot of people didn't understand that about him. They thought...I don't know what they thought! I have read things about him which are totally not true. He was just the most dedicated, caring actor, as much as Marlon Brando or any other major star. Shatner was so cute at the 'Star Trek' convention I did in London, and he really loves the fans. He shows up and he really gives them his all! I remember when he came back into the green room, he was breathless because he had given so much of his energy out to them! He loves them and they love him! This phenomenon would have never happened without him. He *is* Captain Kirk, you just remember that, and he deserves our respect."
Hill also appeared in another iconic 1960s adventure series, "Batman," in the episodes "The Spell of Tut" and "Tut's Case is Shut" which aired on ABC on September 28 and 29, 1966 on ABC. She played Cleo Patrick, the female associate of King Tut (Victor Buono), who is disguised as Commissioner Gordon's fill-in secretary at Gotham City Hall in order to spy on Batman and Robin on King Tut's behalf. As with "Star Trek," Hill has warm and positive memories of appearing on "Batman," "Oh, we had so much fun doing 'Batman.' I played Cleopatra to Victor Buono's King Pharoah, and we were up to no good and burned down the city. He was a great actor, Victor Buono. I also remember how Adam West was just the sweetest person. He had great energy and he reminded me of Shatner a lot. He really loved the character and he came in enthused and he was full of this commitment and the energy he had was just glorious, and that's why the 'Batman' show is still running."
Hill also appeared as another moll, this time named Belladonna, opposite Michael Dunn's Miguelito Loveless, in the "Night of the Bogus Bandits" episode of the CBS espionage Western series, "The Wild Wild West," which aired April 7, 1967. Hill warmly remembers how series star Robert Conrad was, "So adorable! Poor man, I've heard he's not feeling well. Am I wrong? I hope I'm wrong and that he's doing very well because I remember he was just so adorable and fun. All of these people at that time were so innocent. It's not like now, I don't know what's wrong with people now, but they seem to be cynical or something. Not everybody, of course, but you know in those times everybody was so *happy* to be in these shows and so happy to be working. We were just jumping with enthusiasm of getting to work, and Robert Conrad was one of those people who made the work fun. I also loved working with Michael Dunn on that show. He's another one who has gone to heaven. He was just lovely and I felt my heart went out to him because he was this forceful man and I felt his consciousness was affected by his size. He was four foot one, but he was so talented and I remember what a sweet-natured person he was."
During this time in the 1960s, Marianna Hill started studying with Lee Strasberg and eventually became a member of the esteemed Actors Studio. Hill credits Strasberg and the Actors Studio with helping her further develop the knowledge and skills that have served her well in her career. As she recalls, "I can't remember when exactly I started studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. It was such a long time ago. I always wanted to study with him and then he came to California and he gave these classes. I went to these classes and I eventually auditioned to become a member of the Actors Studio. I did this scene from Arthur Miller's 'After the Fall,' that play about Marilyn Monroe and her marriage to Miller, with my friend David Groh. He was my dear friend and he's passed away--may God heal his soul, wherever he is--and he and I eventually did a lot of work together at the Actors Studio. We just did one try out and we got into the Actors Studio, and there are a lot of people who do ten tryouts and never got in. If I didn't get in the first time, I don't think I would've ever tried out again because it would've been too humiliating for me. (laugh) I was very grateful that--knowing that so many famous people have to audition many times to get in--we were able to be accepted as a member after only one try."
Hill is quick to stress the practical and common-sense approach to acting that Lee Strasberg imparted to his students at the Actors Studio, "Since you ask me about Lee, I'm happy to share what I know. Sometimes, his name comes up in the course of teaching because he was the preeminent master at what he taught, but at the same time you don't want to go around dropping his name like you're his closest buddy. He had a lot of pupils and we all loved and adored him. I didn't have any more special a relationship with him than anybody else, except for Al Pacino, because Al was like a son to him. Lee was very practical about what he taught us. He would yell at us sometimes and he would correct your habits. He had a fierce way of doing it and most of us could take it. I could take it because I'd think, 'This is a great teacher! Just grow up!' When he told you that he didn't want you to do this again, what he was saying was 'Don't do any light-weight work! Get into the backstory of a character, work to understand your character, work moment to moment.' I also remember he would say, 'Now, listen, I don't ever want to hear that you went on a set saying things to directors like 'What's my motivation?' because they're busy with the budget and the other actors and they're having to prepare the set-up and the lighting and the producers are mad at them because they didn't do the scene the way they wanted them to do it. 90% of the work of the actor is done at home! You have to work out beforehand 'Why would my character behave like this?' You have to find some motivation to play this character beforehand, that way you can come in and do your work without unnecessarily burdening the director because you've got some preparation.'"
After focusing on television for several years, Marianna Hill returned to the big screen with a co-starring role in Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool" (1969), a semi-documentary political drama dramatizing the life of television news cameraman John Cassellis (Robert Forster) as he covers the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Shot on location during the actual convention in the summer of 1968, "Medium Cool" has risen to prominence in recent years as one of the most important and accomplished American films of its time. Hill played Ruth, Forster's nurse girlfriend, who confronts him about his indifference towards the subjects he covers, as well as the people in his life, in a memorable scene in his loft apartment where he playfully chases her around while both are nude. The full frontal nudity of both Hill and Forster in this sequence earned the film a then-controversial X-rating with the MPAA. Hill's enthusiasm for "Medium Cool" remains undiminished as she recalls her experience working with director Haskell Wexler, "'Medium Cool' was produced by Paramount, and I remember going out there to meet with Haskell Wexler, who was a completely marvelous man. He should be canonized as a Saint. He had seen me in something and he said, 'Oh Marianna, I want you to read for this part' and I said, 'OK, what do you want?' I can't remember all the details, but I got the part. I got along so well with him because, like me, he was another Aquarian, and Aquarians are all idealistic and we really don't care about material stuff. We just want to do good work and he was a far more a dedicated idealist than me and so he just said, 'You're OK. You can do this.' So off we went to Chicago and what a film that turned out to be! Except for 'Chief Zabu,' that's the best experience I had on a film because of working with Haskell. He was a genius and he came from a very wealthy Chicago family and he was a total idealist. He was always on the side of the downtrodden and the underdog and, because of that, he wanted to do this documentary about the Chicago conventions."
Hill vividly recalls how she and co-star Verna Bloom were inadvertently caught up in the violence and mayhem surrounding the real-life Democratic National Convention while casually taking a walk in a nearby park during a break in filming, "'Medium Cool' was a very tough shoot because we were running around being firebombed and gassed all over Chicago. This was during the Democratic Convention, everybody was rioting and there were terrible, horrible rumors about these terrifying things happening in the areas surrounding Chicago. The cops were frightened because they were being given a lot of weird misinformation about things going on in the background. So Verna Bloom and I were walking in the park and both of us had these shapely figures. We couldn't help it if we were born that way. Anyway, this policeman came running after us. He said, 'OK, you two, you're going off to the police station!' And we thought, 'What? Are you talking to us?' And he said, 'Yeah, you're going to have to come with us...We're going to have to jail you girls.' And we asked, 'What for? Because we were walking in the park? What are you thinking?' He said, 'Well, we know that you're...' I don't know what he thought! I think he thought we were call girls, I swear to God, because we had these shapely figures. And then Verna--who is a very intellectual girl, she's far more intelligent than me--started trying to speak some reason into this man, but he wasn't exactly the brightest penny or the sharpest knife, right? She was so idealistic that she thought she could have a proper conversation and reason with him. So she started saying, 'Gee, officer, I'm just here doing a film,' and he put his handcuff on her. The other part of the cuff was hanging loose from Verna's wrist and I thought, 'I'm not going there!...You're not going to put me in the slammer!' So being an instinctual type of person, I just took a run for it! As I was running, all of these Chicago people were saying 'Go, baby, go!' because they thought I was a bad girl or a revolutionary since the dress I was wearing was one of those types of dresses people wore then. It had different colors and all kinds of patterns, and it probably looked like a provocative dress. It was just that kind of look that people had then. So I went for a run and then everybody was mad at me when I got back to the hotel about 2 hours later after running around Chicago thinking, 'Oh, no! I hope nobody's after me!' I show up at the Sherman House and I got all these calls and Haskell said, 'Where have you been? Marianna, have you abandoned Verna?' and I said, 'She should have run! Did you really want me to go to jail, Haskell?! I am not going in there! Where's Verna now?' and Haskell said, 'We've got to go bail her out!' and I said, 'She did nothing! All we did was take a stroll!' So it was a big scandal and then Studs Terkel, who was consulting and advising Haskell during the making of the movie, wrote a whole story about what happened to me and Verna like we were some sort of 'Gretel in the Park!' Studs Terkel was so alarmed by that incident because he was an idealist, and he wrote a wonderful story about two girls walking in the park and getting arrested for just being girls. It was a cause celebre and was in the headlines in the Chicago Sun for about two weeks."
Hill also enjoyed working with leading man Robert Forster on "Medium Cool," and vividly recalls how Forster "was different politically from Haskell. Haskell wanted everybody to be liberal-minded, and he thought Robert Forster was the same. (laugh) They would have these discussions and Robert Forster was conservative. He was from a little town in upstate New York--Rochester!--and Haskell would think, 'How can you not care about that?!' They enjoyed having these discussions about politics. They never fought, they were very civil, but it was very interesting listening to them because they had different points of view about whatever was going on. And whatever was going on wasn't going on because it was all smoke and mirrors and rumors and extreme attitudes. It was just the era or something, I don't know, but there was just a certain something going on that was extreme and everybody was kind of excited. The conservatives and the liberals were excited about what they were working for and everybody meant well. Robert meant well. Haskell meant well. It was just great to be around them because I thought, 'Yes, I could see that conservative point of view,' and 'Yes, I can also see the liberal viewpoint as well,' because I'm apolitical. I don't understand any of that stuff. The best friend I ever had was this film producer. I was whining to him one day 'I don't want this guy to be President!' I was probably talking about Herbert Hoover (laugh), and my best friend said, 'Look, it doesn't matter who's President! They're working to do this and that and there are whole things going on with the Senate and House and Congress doing this and that. The President is a figurehead! He's symbolic!' After he said that, I had a different perspective on the Presidency. My best friend was the smartest person I've known in my whole life and what he said really resonated with me."
One of the most famous scenes in "Medium Cool" had Robert Forster chasing Marianna Hill around his loft apartment while both are nude. Shot with a hand-held camera, the scene avoids any shameless exploitation so that it stands out more as an intimate moment with two adults than as a raunchy or tasteless scene. Hill bravely did full-frontal nudity in the sequence and recalls the circumstances with which the scene came about, "Well, here's the deal: It wasn't planned. But Haskell was such a lovely man and I knew he couldn't cause me any harm. I would never have done that for anybody else, but he was so interested in getting to the truth of a matter, and it was really his story. It was the story of him. He said, 'Marianna, I'm going to pull this sheet off you' and I said, 'For you, I'll do this. But that's it. Nobody else.' And I did a film later called 'El Condor' where they had this body double for me, running around supposedly starkers, and that wasn't me even though many people assumed it was me. But with 'Medium Cool,' when they pulled the sheet off or something, I didn't care because I was doing it for a cause. Like, 'Let's see the truth of this man's life. And let's see how this gal fits into his life, etc, etc.' so it was OK. It never bothered me to do the nudity in 'Medium Cool' but I would never do it before or after for anybody else."
When released in 1969, "Medium Cool" was not a hit with audiences. It would take decades before the film was finally recognized as a genuine cinematic masterpiece. Hill opines that, "'Medium Cool' was, how do you say it?, subversive. A lot of people were afraid of it. They wouldn't go near it because it was really telling, 'This is how it is. The police are rioting, Mayor Daley unleashed the National Guards, and so on.' I saw the circumstances of what led to all of that happening because I was there, and I could see there was such civil unrest between everybody: protesters, conservatives, liberals, hippies. There was such a clash of ideals and cultures and perspectives and points of view that it resulted in all of that violence. The thing of it is, though, it was such a scandal with people getting gassed and all of this rumor and all of this controversy that nobody wanted to go near that film for a long time. So it was an underground favorite. It's now become a cult favorite and, of course, I knew it would be when I did it. I thought, 'This is going to be a legendary movie because this was telling the truth! This is going to show you what was happening during that Democratic National Convention of 1968 in Chicago!' It didn't really help my career at the time because it was considered a subversive movie. It was about issues that you wouldn't want to know about. Like who really wants to know stuff like that? We want to believe that everything's going to be OK, don't we?"
After "Medium Cool," Hill was next cast as the female lead in the big-budget Western "El Condor," (1970) starring Lee Van Cleef, Jim Brown, Patrick O'Neal and directed by John Guillerman. Hill played the sultry mistress of the officer in charge of El Condor, a Mexican fortress that Van Cleef and Brown's characters are planning to raid in order to steal its treasures. Even though the film was relatively successful, and remains a favorite of Western fans, Hill has mixed feelings about the experience. She recalls that she became involved with the film when, "My agent Walter said, 'Oh, Marianna, they'll fly you over there to Spain!' I said, 'What do you mean?' And he said, 'They cast a girl and she didn't work out.' Prior to 'El Condor,' there had been a film made over there with a similar cast. It was with Jim Brown and they had a different leading lady and there were *terrible* rumors coming out of Spain about that production. This was like a follow-up to the prior movie which was called 'Rifles' or '100 Rifles' and there was just cruel stuff coming out of Spain. So what happened is that the girl that had the lead in the new movie, the next leading lady, got in a *big* row with everybody. It was one of those knock-down things and she walked off the set. Anyway, Walter said, 'Oh, Marianna, you've got to go to Spain!' and I went, 'Well, no, I heard some bad stuff about that film, Walter, like people getting beat up and drunk. Are you sure about this?' So, despite my misgivings, I accepted the role and showed up in Spain. I was like a babe in the woods, with all of this stuff going on because of prior histories between the individuals due to their personality issues."
When asked to describe her experience of working with Lee Van Cleef, Jim Brown and director John Guillerman, Hill candidly opines, "They were highly disparate individuals. It was like oil and water. They were just very, very, very different kind of characters. I don't want to get into it because I cannot say stuff about people who are dead, but it was very chaotic because of everything that was going on. John Huston was working there on another picture right next door, and I think it was the times down there in Spain because there was a lot of--not on our picture--but there were fistfights going on with his picture. There was violence going on around us outside of our production and it was kind of like the same, sad people on our picture thought, 'Oh, what's going to happen to us here?' I don't want to say anything bad about Lee Van Cleef and any of those other people because they were just working to the best of their abilities, like we all were. There was just something strange in the atmosphere."
As Hill reflects further on the experience, she pauses, then continues, "You know what? I'd really like to not talk anymore about 'El Condor.' I'm really sorry I don't want to be evasive, but the whole experience was so strange. All I can say is John Guillerman is dead, Lee Van Cleef is dead, who else?...so is Patrick O'Neal. These people are all gone and they were each completely different. They were so diverse in their characters and personalities that there's no way I can put words to the experience. They were all talented people, but when I left I thought 'I'm glad this one's done and I am out of here!' because there was something in the atmosphere down there. I just don't have the intelligence to put into words about that experience in Spain, not that it was terrible, but it was chaotic. I was confused all of the time, as everybody was. And I don't drink, I never touch the stuff, but there was a lot of drinking going on down there and so that affected the Karma on the set. I just couldn't figure out what was going on. I'd show up and ask, 'What's going on today? I don't know what's happening with the script, I don't know what to do with this character,' because it was changed constantly! So what can I say? That's all I can tell you."
Hill next appeared in the dark comedy "The Traveling Executioner" (1970) starring Stacy Keach and directed by Jack Smight. Set in 1918, Keach starred as a former carnival showman who travels throughout the South with his portable electric chair, going from prison to prison, charging one hundred dollars an execution. Hill played a seductive woman on death row who is able to convince Keach's character to spare her. As with "El Condor," Hill's casting on "The Traveling Executioner" turned out to be a rather complicated affair as she replaced another actress intended for the role. She recalls how, "I landed that part because I was supposed to do another movie with somebody else, and then I met director Jack Smight because the girl who was originally supposed to be the lead dropped out. I don't know why she dropped out, but that's how a lot of people get parts. So, anyway, I got into that film because there was suddenly an opening, so to speak." Hill has high praise for Stacy Keach and readily recalls how, "He was wonderful, creative, caring, enthusiastic. He's another one like Shatner, or like even the guy on 'Batman,' Adam West, who was a very underrated actor. They *really* are enthusiastic, they just come on and go for broke! Just the chance to work with people like Stacy, Shatner, and Adam West is a miracle, because they infuse the whole company with their dynamic energy and movement. I loved working with Stacy Keach and I had a wonderful time making that film."
Despite Hill's positive experience making "The Traveling Executioner," the film was ultimately a failure both critically and financially at the time. Keach and Hill received good reviews, but the film somehow missed the mark despite the quirky premise and a changing film-going audience that should have been receptive to its off-beat virtues. Hill opines that the reason, "why that film didn't work is because there was a change of administration at MGM. The original administration was run by Herbert Solow. He and Jack Smight, who directed the film, were just lovely, dear, gentle, kind people. Solow was very supportive of the picture, but then the administration changed and they gave the head of the picture department to someone else, and he didn't like it. He didn't understand it, and he cut the movie in half and stuck it back together like Humpty Dumpty and the edges were jagged. It didn't work. I remember being worried about it. I thought, 'Oh, it could be the best movie, we just floated together through the movie, we were always happy rehearsing together, we were the happiest cast in the world!' Judy Collins would come and visit the set with Stacy--she was a Goddess--and we just had an incredible, lovely, creative time because we're all from the Actors Studio and we all worked the same way. I remember it was one of the few films I really wanted to see because I loved the scenes, I loved the character because of how complicated she was...but when I saw it I thought, 'How could they do that?!' We had a long sequence in jail and they cut it in half and stuck it into two different parts of the movie and it made no sense. If they had put it together in the sequence of the script, according to what was originally written, it would've been a good film. I think it could've been a big cult movie."
Starting with "El Condor" and "The Traveling Executioner," the spelling of Marianna Hill's screen name in the credits of her subsequent TV and film projects changed to the shorter, "Mariana Hill." Hill explains that it was not her decision to have her name spelled differently on-screen, "The changing of the spelling of my name on-screen was made by others. The correct spelling of my name is 'Marianna.' I believe it was because in Spain and in certain countries, there is only one 'N' on that name and the name changed depending on where I was working or what country a film or show I appeared in was being shown. I'm still not sure which spelling looks best, 'Marianna' or 'Mariana,' but 'Marianna' is what my mother named me and it's an old name in my family that goes way back. It has origins in Alsatian, Russian, and even South American. I didn't get worked up over the spelling of my name. When they would spell it as 'Mariana,' I thought, 'Go ahead' because it didn't bother me at all, as long as they knew the name and knew who I was."
As the 1970s progressed, Marianna Hill continued making frequent guest appearances on television. Notable among these was her appearance in the February 19, 1971 episode of NBC's "Name of the Game" titled "The Savage Eye." Hill and Peter Deuel played documentary filmmakers purporting to cover a protest between environmentalists and loggers. In actuality, their characters are cynically manipulating the action and creating a dramatic narrative for their film in order to build professional reputations for themselves in Hollywood. Magazine writers Dan Farrell (Robert Stack) and Peggy Maxwell (Susan Saint James) investigate the modus operandi of the filmmakers on behalf of the show's "Crime" magazine. A prescient and hard-hitting look at the sort of tactics that would later characterize reality television, Hill's "Name of the Game" episode resonates years later as an expose on documentary and journalistic ethics. Hill vividly recalls working on this "Name of the Game" and has high praise for star Robert Stack, "Let me tell you about Robert Stack: OK, I told you about Barry Sullivan being an absolutely exquisitely behaved, wonderful, principled guy. Robert Stack was the exact same way. He was an absolute diamond of a person. These are the two men that I learned from on how to be a human being and not some jerk and not some little diva or something just by being around them. Later on I found out that Robert Stack was a good friend of JFK and that he was from a very upper-classy league family, but you would have never known it because he was the most decent guy, he and Barry, that I've ever met in the business. I had worked with Stack years earlier on 'The Untouchables' and I worked with him again on 'Name of the Game,' and I was very glad to work with him more than once."
Even though Hill has very positive memories working with Robert Stack on "Name of the Game," she expresses concerns as to whether or not her performance is any good in that episode. When I mention having seen it recently, she pointedly asks, "I want you to tell me the truth: Am I any good in that show? Tell me straight, I mean it." When I express amazement at her uncertainty at what was clearly a solid performance, she explains, "I never saw it because I always thought, when I finished that show, 'I really didn't do a very good job.' I don't know why I felt this strange feeling about it because there was this internal chaos on that show and I'm not sure why or how or what it was all about. There was something that was stuck, didn't fit together, about that show. The only thing that fit together was Robert Stack, who was just this incredible individual. I can't praise him enough as a human being. But, anyway, I think I was uncertain about my performance and I'll tell you why: I took a big chance and I played her as completely neurotic because I didn't know how or why this woman is behaving this way. I decided, 'Well, she's just got to be crazy! She's neurotic, she's so full of insecurity, she says stupid things' so I made this big acting choice but when I walked out of that company I thought, 'Oh my God! I made the wrong acting choice!' Actors always do that. They make choices and a lot of times the choices don't work. Even the greatest actors sometimes will do a performance and you think, 'What is he working on? What did she do there? Why didn't that work?' So I, as an actor, walked away and thought, 'That neurotic choice was stupid! Maybe you should have done something else instead, etc, etc.?'"
Hill returned to the big screen with a co-starring role in the counter culture drama "Thumb Tripping" (1972), the story of a pair of hippie hitchhikers (played by Meg Foster and Michael Burns) and their adventures with the people who pick them up on the road. Hill and Burke Byrnes played a swinging married couple who Foster and Burns encounter on their journey. Even though it remains a little-seen and little-remembered film, Hill has positive and vivid memories about the experience, "That was another time we had so much fun. It was shot in and around Northern California and one of my favorite scenes was improvised in a bar. Our characters were drunk all the time, and I don't drink, but I used an acting adjustment that Lee Strasberg showed us so we don't have to drink, a certain something we do for our energy in a drunk scene. I was happy acting face-down drunk all the time playing that role without actually having to drink. We had this scene where we landed in this little town somewhere up north, and I said to Quentin Masters, the director, who was a great guy, 'Let's just do some free-fall stuff' and he said, 'That's all I want! Go for it!' In the scene we ran across the highway into the bar, and I said to Quentin 'I'm going to go into that bar and raise hell!' and the people in that bar didn't know we were shooting. Quentin had brought all these hidden cameras into the bar. So I went into the bar and I had a bikini on, I wasn't naked or anything, and I got up onto the bar and started dancing wildly, which I wasn't supposed to do, but I did it anyway. And the local townspeople were thinking, 'Oh, look at these...who are these people?!' You could see by the look on these people's faces they were just about to chuck us out! And these were actual townspeople. They didn't realize we were doing a movie. And so I just kept dancing on the bar and suddenly these townspeople, you could see it in their faces, they had become like a crowd. And once you get a crowd together, anything can happen. So here's this crowd and they started moving towards me and I thought, 'Uh oh. There's going to be danger here! I better get off the bar!' So I jump off the bar and into this guy's arm and his wife was there and that started the whole thing. So what happened is, they all got into a fight! And we went out into the street and, in the movie, they beat my husband up but that's not what really happened when we actually shot it. What really happened is that they ejected us! You can't blame them! We were just bad! And Meg Foster was also behaving as if she had had too much to drink, which of course she didn't! We were acting. But I remember that scene because it was so much fun to do. And, in the movie, when we got back out in the street, I said to my husband a few pieces of dialogue I actually remember, 'They were nice people! They were happy to see me! Why did you take me out of there?!' It was just the most ridiculous dialogue, but I remembered that because it was just how people are in life."
Marianna Hill next appeared in one of the strangest films of her career, the psychological horror/suspense film "The Baby" (1972). Hill starred as Germanine, one of the daughters in a twisted, female dominated family where the embittered mother, played by Ruth Roman, has allowed her grown son, named Baby (played by David Manzy) to be raised in a perpetual state of infanthood. Complications arise when a social worker (Anjanette Comer) arrives to survey the family and takes an inordinate interest in Baby's well-being. With motives of her own, Comer's character challenges Ruth Roman and her daughters Hill and Suzanne Zenor for ultimate custody of Baby. This sets off a series of events that lead to mayhem and murder. One of the most bizarre commercial films ever made, "The Baby" is notable for Hill's sympathetic and scary performance as the older sister Germaine. At first cunning and intimidating, Germaine ultimately shows her vulnerable side once the family's control of baby becomes threatened. When asked what interested her in this project, Hill laughs as she recalls, "What drew me to it? It's because Germaine was so weird, and the family was so kinky, and the storyline was a scream. (laugh) The director Ted Post and I had worked with each other on some show and I remember what a great guy he was. He's one of those people who is up there with Barry Sullivan and Robert Stack as being just a fabulous, terrific, heroic guy. I remember I said to him, when he offered it to me, 'Ted, what do you want me to do? You want me to read the telephone book? OK!' because I just loved working with him that I didn't even have to look at the script. He said, 'You're going to play this really nutty girl!' And I responded, 'All right! Let's go!' So we went and did it and had a blast. All we did was laugh, laugh, laugh. It was absolutely nutty, but so enjoyable! Working with Ted Post was similar to working with Francis Ford Coppola. They inspire you to work hard to really make them happy. It's a great gift that some directors have because that's everything. Ted and Francis are not competing with the actors, and they're not putting them down. They love their actors and just want them to create something wonderful and, as a result, you just want to make them happy. I felt very inspired working with Ted in order to come up with unique and interesting ideas for the movie. That's not always true with every director because sometimes they have an agenda that has nothing to do with good work and it's not conducive to maintaining creativity. Certain people think 'The Baby' is great. I have no idea why, but if they're latching onto some special quality with that movie, it was because Ted inspired us to want to do the very best we could do for him."
Hill's positive memories of "The Baby" continues as she recalls the collaborative process of working with Anjanette Comer, "Anjanette Comer is an absolutely beautiful girl. Where is she? Is she OK? I hope she's doing well because I really liked her. She's a very committed actress and a lovely, lovely person. I had a name for her. I used to call her 'Angelo,' which means Angel. I'd say to her, 'Hey, Angelo, what are we going to do with this script?' And she would say, 'I think we should play it this way.' We would talk like actors do: 'I'm doing this now for this scene...Yes, that's a good choice! Why don't you try that?' We would have this 'actor talk' on the set. It was very easy to have that sort of collaboration with Anjanette because she was so cozy and nice to be around. She would tell me, 'I'm going to create an inner life and this and that for my character.' I would listen to her and I would create these secret choices for my character that you normally don't reveal to other actors. I remember thinking, 'I'm glad she's telling me this because now I'm going to make a secret choice for this scene and she's not going to know about it!' (laugh) That sort of collaboration sets up a kind of tension, which is good for a movie like 'The Baby' because it was such a wacky storyline. The only thing you could possibly do in a film of that nature, which was so off-the-wall, is to only do surprising things and make choices for your character and scenes that are very unusual. That allows the audience to react, 'Oh! That's interesting! I wouldn't have thought of that!' So that's what Anjanette and I, and everyone else in the cast, were doing when we made that movie--we were trying to find somewhere to land which wasn't conventional because the material was so off and odd and frenetic."
Hill easily bonded with the cast members playing her family and recalls how, "Suzanne Zenor was so cute and so sweet and I felt very protective of her. I actually felt, while we were making that film, as if she was my sister. I would call her 'Baby Suzanne' as a term of endearment because I felt as if she was really my sibling. It was something automatic between us because there was something very sweet and childlike and innocent about Suzanne as an individual. At the same time, I remember that there was something very private and mysterious about her. You couldn't easily read her, but there was something very vulnerable and also remote about her at the same time. Ruth Roman was great because I remember when I was a little girl, she would come over to our house. She did a movie right down the street from my dad's ranch. My dad had a ranch he inherited from his father, because my grandfather was in property. She was working nearby and she would come over and hang out with mommy and have girl talk and so I knew her from the time I was a kid."
Hill next worked on one of her most well-remembered films, the surreal horror masterpiece "Messiah of Evil" (1973). Hill played Arletty, daughter of painter Joseph Lang (Royal Dano) who follows him to the remote California coastal town of Point Dune after he turns up missing. In the course of the film, Arletty becomes witness to strange events where it becomes apparent the town is cursed by a former minister--a surviving member of the Donner Party--who causes the townspeople to turn into flesh-eating cannibals. Directed by Willard Huyck, and written by both Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz right before they co-wrote "American Graffiti," "Messiah of Evil is characterized by a hypnotic, European sensibility that emphasizes mood and character over plot and logic. Hill gives a superb performance as the passive, yet sympathetic Arletty. With subtlety and sensitivity, Hill brings credibility to the film by portraying Arletty's responses to the strangeness swirling around her in an ethereal, yet straight-forward, manner. A film whose reputation has grown dramatically in recent years, "Messiah of Evil" ranks as one of the best films of Marianna Hill's career. Despite the acclaim accorded to the film, Hill has never seen "Messiah of Evil" and regards it as mostly a missed opportunity. As she candidly explains, "Let me tell you something: We made an art film. We made the most beautiful, artistic, creative film and what happened is that the producer lost the business side of it and lost control of the movie. Someone else purchased the movie and they turned it into a zombie movie. Didn't they? I never saw it. What happened is that I asked Willard 'When are we going to finish the movie?' because we still had scenes left to film. He said, 'Marianna, it's over. I've lost control' because something happened to the production, the budget...I don't know the exact details but they lost the financial control of the film and they had to sell it to somebody who was a horror film person. My understanding is that the horror person put zombies into a refrigerator and I thought, 'I didn't make a zombies in a refrigerator movie. I made this really psychological thing about a daughter and her father having some sort of mythic, psychic, conscious decision to be connected to the moon or something. And then this haunted guy with blond hair shows up with these two mysterious women.' The story was originally about what happens when communication between people goes wrong. These were lost souls looking for something meaningful that they couldn't find and they were stymied and trapped where they were. It was a beautiful movie we made and it was elegant. It was very 'Twin Peaks.' We all had this wonderful experience really going for this deep, beautiful sort of ghostly, wispy, spiritual kind of elegance. We wanted to make our goal sort of an Antonioni movie because Willard Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz are just genius, creative people. When somebody told me there were scenes with zombies eating meat out of a refrigerator I said, 'No! Oh no! That wasn't the movie I made!' They changed the name to 'Messiah of Evil' and I remember it used to be called 'The Blood Moon' when we were filming it."
Despite her disappointment in the outcome of the film, Marianna Hill still has high praise for her colleagues, "Willard Huyck and his wife created 'American Graffiti' and what great talents they are! But unfortunately these things happen where sometimes they run out of money for some reason or other. That's probably what happened. I never could figure it out, nobody ever told me. I didn't ask further because I didn't want to embarrass Willard and make him feel awkward. He and Gloria meant well and they were just so dedicated, but then that film just went to pieces. I had no idea that Willard directed any of those zombie sequences because it just wasn't in the script that I read. I imagine that, whoever purchased the film, must have said to Willard, 'You're the director, we've got to put this thing together, please come back and put some zombies in it.' And Willard probably went back because, naturally, he wanted to finish it. I'm sure the zombie sequences were effective if Willard had directed them because he's a gifted filmmaker and we were dedicated to making it a good film. I remember all night shooting and one incident where Willard wanted me to cry at one point. He kept blowing stuff in my eyes and it took three hours to get what he wanted, which was something very subtle and mysterious, because we kept doing take after take. I remember how difficult it was because my eyes were beginning to burn out. (laugh)"
Hill also has very fond memories of her on-screen co-stars in the film, "I remember my father very well because he was played by Royal Dano. I was a big fan of Royal. He was a fabulous guy. What an old pro! We had a lot of scenes together and he was powerful. I also remember Anitra Ford was very beautiful and very kind. She had a lovely elegance and the presence of a snow maiden and I liked her a lot. I also recall how Joy Bang was a lot of fun to work with. I didn't work that much with those girls, but they were beautiful and good people. They were professional and prepared and worked with all of their hearts. Like every other person I ever worked with, they just went for broke. There were no problems with anyone on that film. I even put my brother in it. He was a cop in the movie in a scene on the beach. Willard said, 'We need an actor to play a cop in this scene' and I said, 'My brother's here in town. Why don't we just put him to work?' because as a child he was an actor who worked on projects my father also acted in. My feeling about that movie is that I can't face it when you go into something--and you really, really love the whole concept--and then it just falls to pieces. I'm sure the new people, who tried to salvage the movie, meant well and that they just wanted to make a good movie. But, in the end, there was no part of that movie that was what we intended because we didn't have a chance to finish it properly. I have nothing against horror films, I've certainly made my share, I was just hurt by the changes made to the film because it's not the movie I signed up to do. But I'm really very happy to hear that there are people who are fond of the movie, because we worked very hard on it and Willard and Gloria were just so dedicated to creating something special with it. Like I said, I actually rang Willard and asked, 'When are you going to finish it?' and he said, 'We can't. We lost it. Sorry.' And I thought, 'Well, I guess I'll have to move on to something else!' (laugh)"
Marianna Hill moved on to big things with the classic Universal Western "High Plains Drifter" (1973), starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. Eastwood played his iconic Stranger with No Name who rides into a corrupt town called Lago, whose residents are living in fear because of the impending return of three convicts sent to prison for murdering the town Marshal. Terrified about their fate at the hands of the convicts, the townspeople enlist Eastwood's help in defending them from the trio. In the process of preparing them for the attack, Eastwood's character dominates, degrades and humiliates the town in an act of punishment for their passive complicity in allowing the outlaws to murder the Marshal. One of Hill's best parts and best films, "High Plains Drifter" is now considered a Western masterpiece and one of the best films from Eastwood's early directing career. Co-starring her "Medium Cool" colleague Verna Bloom, Hill warmly recalls how she and Bloom were reunited for this film, "Somehow or other, Clint Eastwood saw 'Medium Cool' and he loved it. I think he cast both Verna and I on the basis of our work in that film. I had to audition for 'High Plains Drifter' and Clint also asked my friend Cissy Wellman--who had worked with me on 'Red Line 7000' and whose dad had been a very major director, William Wellman--about me. He said, 'Now, tell me, how's this Marianna? Is she OK?' and Cissy said, 'Yeah, just put her to work!' So it's really because of Cissy, by providing him with some insight and information about me, that I landed the part. So thank you Cissy! She's a lovely girl! And thank you Clint for having the faith to hire me!"
Hill has positive memories about the making of 'High Plains Drifter' and is unreserved in her praise of her leading man and director, Clint Eastwood, "Clint Eastwood is another great one, just like Barry Sullivan and Robert Stack. People don't understand that about him, but he's very quiet, he stands in line for lunch with all of the crew and cast, and anybody can come up to him. The guy who serves the craft services--the donuts and everything--in the morning and the guy who's the gaffer can come up to Clint and talk about what he needs to do his job and ask him for help. Clint will immediately take the time to work with and help them. He'll say to a crew member, 'Oh, you need this to do your job?' or 'You ran out of bacon this morning to serve the cast and crew?' and he will make sure to take care of them. He is just a decent, lovely, gentle man who really loves actors. He was like our dad on the set and so generous and considerate as an actor and a director. He was just one of the best people I've ever worked with."
As she further discusses the experience, Hill also recalls other aspects of Clint Eastwood's shooting methods that helped make "High Plains Drifter" the classic that it is, "He was just a genius. He used to have this little wagon with equipment following around right besides us as he would shoot a scene. It would usually be, maybe, five feet away or something. And then we'd do the scene and he'd ask, 'Do you want to see what we shot?' and I'd say, 'Yeah, I want to see it!' because usually you have to wait at night and look at the rushes. A lot of actors don't like to look at the rushes. They think it's something that messes up your head to look at your rushes. It's not true with me. I can look at myself and go, 'Oh, you really screwed up in that scene there!' I'm very straight down the line with myself, I can see what went wrong. But, for a lot of actors, looking at the rushes does something to them, it makes them self-conscious. Anyway, Clint would say, 'Go ahead and look at the footage playing back on the equipment in the small wagon and see what you've just done!' He had this wagon full of equipment that allowed him to see the footage right away. He did it so he would know if he had to shoot another take, or if the lighting was OK or that the sound was OK. This is why he's just this brilliant guy because, if the footage we just shot was OK, he would let it go. When we did 'High Plains Drifter,' I had to do the very first scene that was shot. I had to go out and slap him because he was smoking a cigar or something. I remember arriving there from L.A. and people said to me, 'Get into make-up!' Usually, you'd get settled first, but he'd say, 'No, we have to go right into work!' which was great because he likes to get people when they're in a kind of flux so that they're real. He likes for you to be real and he gets it out of people. What I thought was so fantastic about him, when you would look at him in real life, he was this really handsome man and he was lovely and graceful and gentle and kind. And when you look at the footage of him on the equipment in the little wagon, light shown out of him. Light shown out of him and it was like, 'Oh my God! Is this guy an Angel or what?'"
One of the most dramatic scenes in "High Plains Drifter" involves Eastwood's character dragging Marianna Hill's character, Callie Travers, into a barn and raping her. When about any challenge or difficulty filming that scene, Hill candidly responds, "I can't remember anything about that scene because we did it so fast and it looked worse than it was. All I can remember is that I was lying around in the hay with Clint and then the scene was over. Nothing happened between us, but it looked like it was because of the way it was edited. But there was no nudity or anything like that. I don't remember any particular direction from him during that scene or any other scene on that film. All he would say when he would direct every scene is 'Let's do it again!' or 'Let's do it another way!' That's how he directs because he hires actors that he can trust and who are prepared. He's very careful about casting. He wants people that can come up with the goods so he doesn't have to spoon-feed them. This guy knows what he's doing, and why should he waste his time on some dingbat who says, 'What is my motivation?' and throw them off the set? He expects the actor to come in and know what they're doing. This is what a great director does: He has a sense and he has to know and be able to tell whether an actor can do that."
Hill also warmly recalls the camaraderie among the cast and crew of "High Plains Drifter" and loved working on location at Mono Lake, California for the duration of the shoot, "We never had more fun in the whole world! We just laughed, we were like little children, and Clint was like our loving, protective dad. I had a Mercedes at that time. I bought one when I was very young and I was running around--I never should have been driving, but I was driving when I was 13 years old--but anyway I had my car up there and I'm driving around and everybody stayed at different hotels and motels during the shoot and I'd visit people all the time. I'd say, 'Oh, I'll come over and see you!' and they'd say, 'Hi! Come on over!' We were just like happy children. Everything was beautiful during the making of that movie. Mono Lake--what more could you want? And, also, the script was so fascinating: A pack of outlaws get out of jail, and he was the angel of vengeance, and we were a town of awful people! And I'd worked with everyone in the cast before because we were all members of the Actors Studio. Almost everybody in 'High Plains Drifter' came out of the Actors Studio. I think I got one of the actors a job, Stefan Gierasch, who played one of the townspeople. I actually told Clint, 'Use him!' We all kind of recommended each other, so to speak, so it was just a happy group to work with."
Even though Hill's character, Callie Travers, is not considered a sympathetic character, Hill manages to find aspects of the role to make her a compelling, at times even humorous and pathetic, presence on-screen. When asked to describe the process with which she prepared for her role in the film, Hill opines, "Listen, I loved that girl. Because bad girls are complicated and they're full of humanity. They have different colors, they have good in them, they have bad in them, they're all mixed up and they're complex. It's much better than playing good girls. I've played good girls before, but the good girls are one-dimensional, which is fine, but what can you do with them? Not too much. You can't do a lot of different colors, you can't go do a range, you can't do what's called the arc of the character, which means 'Well, how does this character react to different circumstances in this particular story?' And that's important because it allows you to think, 'Oh, wait a minute: this happened and now she would do this and now she would do that' but a good girl will always react the same way, which is with innocence and vulnerability. It's like a one-track mind sort of thing. No human being is completely good. Every person, no matter how wonderful, and how good, always has ambiguity here and there. When you're a good girl in a film, nobody wants that. They just want you to be...I don't know, a victim. I don't want to put it that way, because it sounds terrible, but they want you to be a shining moral beacon of light in this particular story, which is also good because women hold the moral structure in society. So, yes, it's important to have a good girl, but it's also important to have a bad girl too."
Because of the changing socio-political climate that has brought greater attention and sensitivity to the subject of sexual assault, and how it is portrayed on film, the scene where Hill's character, Callie Travers, is dragged into a barn, and raped by Eastwood's character remains controversial due to the portrayal of her character as eventually enjoying the assault. When presented with this concern, Hill candidly addresses the need to view the film in its proper context, "Well, if critics don't like that scene, that's their problem. That scene, and Callie Travers, is a reflection of the environment in that film's storyline and not necessarily the real world. That was what was in the script. He's a handsome, gorgeous, big strong man, and Callie Travers was the town naughty girl. She had many tawdry sexual encounters with these men and she just enjoyed herself. That's what she did, that's the character. Some women, not all, but I've known a few women who behave that way and attract that sort of trouble. Now, of course, I love women, I treasure them, I glory in them, I'm very much on the side of women. But I also understood how Callie was some sort of--not a nymphomaniac--but she attracted danger. She had a deep need for excitement. She is not meant to be a role model or representative of women in general. I still loved her and found her sympathetic because, whenever she got involved with any situation, she was sincere about it even though it was completely wrong-minded and wrong-headed. She did what she felt was right at the time. She was totally ruled by her impulse, which were not good. And, in the end, she's lying on the floor, begging what's-his-name Geoffrey Lewis to forgive her--look where and how she ended up. It wasn't good. She runs off at the end, and God-knows what happens to her? What does she do? She runs to the next town? I couldn't worry about her because it's out of my hands."
As she continues discussing her role in that film, Marianna Hill maintains that there was no sense of misogyny in "High Plains Drifter" because Eastwood was very critical in-general of the characters in that town, and was not singling out her character for criticism and abuse, "If Clint ever wanted to make another movie called 'Whatever Happened to the Bad Group over there from That Town called Lago' we would've seen how everybody ended up. But I think they probably wound up pretty badly because they were awful! They were really bad, naughty people and they were cruel! They got their just desserts, whatever happened to them. And Clint probably didn't make a follow-up movie because what is he going to say: They all get shot or something, or they died of dehydration or turned to working in a cathouse? I don't know what happened to Callie Travers. Maybe she went straight. She could've gone straight. Like when everybody went 'Who are you?,' they could've gotten that shock of their lives when he turns up and whips everybody into shape. It could've been that he triggered off some kind of really deep, animal, atavistic streak where they woke up from their foolishness and created new lives for themselves. They could've gone off and gone straight! Or maybe not. (laugh) There are many possibilities."
Coming after her success with "High Plains Drifter," Marianna Hill's next film appearance was another high point in her career, where she was cast as Deanna Corleone, Fredo Corleone's (John Cazale) drunk, trashy wife in Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece "The Godfather, Part II" (1974). A vivid supporting character in a film made up of many of them, Hill manages to make Deanna funny, pathetic, and feisty. Despite her limited screen time in the film, Deanna remains one of Hill's most well-remembered roles. Hill recalls she landed the role because co-producer Fred Roos (a renowned casting director), had worked with her numerous times on television projects, "He's my oldest friend. I've known Fred since I was 11 years old and he was *always* my champion. He and my agent Walter got me work all of the time. Fred cast me in 'The Godfather, Part II' because he knew what I could bring to the role and recommended me to Francis."
When asked about making "The Godfather, Part II," Hill enthusiastically recalls, "What a thrill to work on that movie! Look at that character and how brilliant the movie is! It was amazing! And Francis always humbly says, 'Well, I was improvising!' when he talks about making that film. The reason why working with Francis is such a memorable experience is that, when he sets up a group of people, he'll get you all to have dinner together--and set up all of this food and all of this stuff--and he creates an atmosphere where you all really become a family. We all had a great time filming out on Lake Tahoe together. It was so much fun! We just kept filming and filming and Francis would always experiment and do different things and say, 'Marianna, why don't you try doing this for the scene?' and I'd say, 'OK, Francis! Who's with us now in the scene, Francis?' And you'd be totally open to experimenting with him! There's just something about Francis where you just want to please him. You just want to do anything for him, so I'd come up with ideas and I'd say, 'Francis, what about this?' One time he said to me, 'I don't know what to do with Diane Keaton in this scene.' And I said, 'Put her next to a sewing machine. Have her work on her sewing.' And, you know what? He wrote that into the script and used it in the movie in the scene when Michael comes home and finds Kay working on the sewing machine. I just thought it was perfect for her because I had seen the first 'Godfather' so many times, because I just *love* that movie, it's like I knew who her character was."
While describing the creative process that has resulted in multiple versions of the film, each with different additional scenes or vignettes, Hill recalls that, "There were a lot more scenes that I shot for that movie than they used. We all had more scenes. Everybody filmed so many different scenes, and so many different takes, and so many different interpretations of a scene and this and that so that Francis had enough footage for 5,000 movies. That's how he shoots and that's why he's so smart, because he finds the jewels within all of these different takes and these different interpretations and these different situations. On the second 'Godfather,' he had enough money in the budget to take all those different shots and angles and points of views and choices to choose from them in the editing stage. That movie has been re-edited so many times, there are some versions where I see posters that make it look like I'm starring with Al Pacino, and versions where I'm not even mentioned on the poster, and versions where there are more scenes where I'm falling down drunk all over the place. Francis made so many different versions that sometimes I'm not in the film, and sometimes I am, but every version he made was always brilliant. And he would take hours collaborating with Gordon Willis, who is a master cinematographer and the nicest man in the world, to set up these exquisite shots that took a great deal of time to set up and light because the sun had to be just right. Gordon would always apologize to me, 'I'm really sorry, Marianna, it's taking so long to set up this shot,' and I said, 'What are you crazy?! You're going to make a masterpiece and a work of art and I know it! What do I care how long it takes? I don't care if you're here for a year!' (laugh) So they would just take forever to make everything glorious and magnificent. If you look at the first 'Godfather,' every scene is like a Botticelli painting, every scene and every frame. Francis is a master!"
When asked about her acting colleagues in "The Godfather, Part II," Hill continues with her effusive praise, "Because Francis and Gordon Willis were so meticulous lighting every shot, there was a lot of time for the cast and crew to get to know one another. John Cazale was a fabulous actor who died way too young. I'll tell you something: John Cazale was as good as Marlon. A *great* actor! You watch him very carefully. He's dynamite! Watch what happens in the first 'Godfather' where Al Pacino says 'Fredo get those girls out of here!' Just look what he does, the choices he makes. Look at his acting when he kicks those girls out. I don't know anybody who could've done that! But unfortunately he was a chain smoker and it's a great tragedy that he's gone. Robert Duvall is absolutely so amazingly down to earth. He is just who he is. He's another force of nature. He says what he wants, he speaks plainly, he has very unique and unusual ideas about life because that's who he is. He treats everybody--whether you're the director, co-star, crew member, or a regular person just passing by--with the same level of dignity and respect. He is so brilliant that it's unbelievable. Sometimes, people don't even realize how brilliant he is because he is so genuine and authentic in his choices. When you watch him work, it's like--Oh my God!--he's a master. I loved Robert Duvall and I have the greatest respect for him as an actor and a human being. There's just something about him: He's so humble and so genuine and so real. He was great. Al Pacino is another one who is a fantastic guy. I would sit around the dressing room with him and we would talk about acting and actors because he's also from the Actors Studio. And Al was Lee Strasberg's friend and we all adore Lee, just worship him. And Al said, 'Marianna, I'm thinking about getting Lee in this movie to play Hyman Roth.' I said, 'Oh, he's perfect for that gangster! Nobody else could play that part but him!' So then, of course, Al got Francis and Lee together and the rest is history! What a job he did! What a jewel! It was such a pleasure and honor watching Robert Duvall and Al Pacino work together because I don't think there are any better actors than them. They are Monarchs of the acting profession. Duvall and Pacino were just brilliant together. They just radiated off the film because they both had their own kind of energy and stuff going on, but when you put them together, whatever energy and quality that they had going on turned into magic. And I loved Diane Keaton! What a sweet person, and how complicated, vulnerable, and sensitive she was. Not everyone sees that in her, but I saw it while we were making that movie. She's lovely, just lovely, and such a great star. I really liked her a lot. I also remember what a lovely girl Talia Shire is. She was the most charming, beautiful, kind, old fashioned girl."
Hill's praise for her on-screen colleagues in "The Godfather Part II" also extends to key supporting characters who, like her, played spouses and significant others of the Corleone family members, including Troy Donahue (who played Connie's playboy boyfriend, Merle Johnson) and Julie Gregg (returning from the first "Godfather" as Sonny's elegant widow Sandra). As Hill explains, "I remember how Troy Donahue was very sweet. He was great to work with on 'The Godfather, Part II' because he's not at all what he seems to be from his screen image. He kind of looks like he's spoiled and insolent, but he's just very sweet, kind, and vulnerable. I didn't get to know Julie Gregg very well, but what I do know of her is that she was a lovely person. She had a beautiful singing voice. She was a wonderful singer who used to sing in Beverly Hills at this club called 'The Little Club' or something on North Canon Drive. Everybody would go see her because she was the most beautiful singer. She had a wonderful mature quality as an actress, it was not like a little sprightly, gamine kind of a gal because she was womanly. She had a depth and sensuality and I'm sorry to hear she recently passed away. My God rest her soul with Jesus and all the Saints."
Because "The Godfather, Part II," was, at its essence, a story of a complex family, Francis Ford Coppola created a very familial atmosphere on the set of that allowed Hill to become acquainted with members of his own family, "I remember Talia and Francis' parents were there--Carmine and Italia--the entire Coppola family were just very lovely people. Their mother, Italia, would say 'Marianna, you should marry my son Auggie.' She had a son, August Coppola, and she would say, 'You've got to meet him! You're a nice girl, Marianna, you should be married! You've got to get married, and I've got a son for you!' I thought that was adorable that she wanted me to marry her son. Italia was a lovely, old-fashioned Italian woman and she saw me and she thought I shouldn't be running around. I wasn't seeing anybody on that movie, there was nothing like that, but these were old fashioned Italians with very old fashioned values. I understood them because I went to school with a lot of Catholics and a lot of Italians, so I was very comfortable around them."
As with Callie Travers in 'High Plains Drifter,' Hill has great insights into the character of Deanna Corleone, underscoring the vividness of her performance. With great enthusiasm, Hill opines, "I loved Deanna because I had known a lot of people like her. In acting, you just know people like that. They just come on and they're all empty and they operate on a different level. They operate in a way where they're shrewd, but they're not intelligent. They're interested in the money, they go for the power and they don't care. They're on a different kind of a mindset then, let's say, somebody who's got different or more substantial instincts. I just loved playing her, because she was so venal and so stupid and she would say stupid things! She was so clueless, but yet so aggressive, it was like being a naughty cow or something! Amongst these people with thousands of years of tradition and history, here comes Deanna and she's like really empty and shallow, but yet driven! (laugh) What a great part! I loved it! Deanna was like some kind of an animal. I don't know what kind of animal I would put on her, but she was probably like a dragon. A lot of actors work that way: they create a character by applying some kind of animal to them. If I had to look back at it, I'd say, 'Yeah, she was a dragon' because she ultimately survived. You know, John Cazale got shot and drowned in the lake by Al Pacino! Marlon fell over with an orange peel in his mouth! Al winds up in a rest home. And Sonny Corleone--Jimmy Caan!--dies in a hail of bullets in a gun fight! Everybody else goes down, but what happens to her? She leaves Fredo and just goes on. She should've gone off and married some other gangster, because she doesn't care about where the money comes from and where the power comes from. Characters like Deanna, they're survivors in the worst sense! I can't compare her to anybody that lived in history. Who could you compare her to?"
When I suggest Eva Peron, Hill thoughtfully responds, "I was just thinking about that, but Eva Peron died. She had a terrible illness and her husband Juan Peron wouldn't even come in the room when she was dying! He didn't want to witness her illness, he just didn't like it. And she'd say 'Oh, Juan, come in!' and he'd say 'Oh, no, I'm not coming in there!' He used to say he could smell the odor of death, which is a kind of terrible thing to say about his wife! But they were tough people and she died! Her whole body was eaten alive. So Eva Peron--yeah, sort of, maybe. But I really think Eva Peron believed in what she was doing! She really believed she was saving the people. Look at the songs that Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote, 'The People! The People!' and she really believed that! But Deanna doesn't believe in that. Deanna doesn't care about anybody. She's heartless."
After "The Godfather, Part II," Marianna Hill starred in the satirical comedy "The Mad Movie-Makers" which was also known more bluntly as "The Last Porno Flick" (1974). The film featured Hill as an Italian-American housewife whose cabbie husband Tony (Frank Calcanini) and his best friend Ziggy (Michael Pataki) decide to produce a pornographic movie as a profit-making venture. In the course of their adventures, the mob tries to cut in on their action, while his mother-in-law and her elderly friends help to co-finance the production under the assumption that it is a religious film. Despite its title and racy subject matter, the film is relatively subdued in the sex and nudity department as it focuses more on farcical, slapstick comedy. Hill recalls that, "my friend, Frank Calcanini, was in the movie, and he and I were in Lee Strasberg's acting class. I remember he was getting together with some friends of his and they were making this movie. We used to do all of this scene work in Lee's class. Everybody was in that class--Sally Field, Lesley Ann Warren--I mean, major people. And Frank said, 'Oh, Marianna, I've got to start my career now, so please be my wife in this movie!' I said, 'For you, Frank, of course!' because I loved him. He was the sweetest person in the world. He was like Elvis, he had the same charisma that Elvis had. So I thought, 'Gosh, that will translate onto the screen, and maybe we can do something special here!' I didn't even read the script. I said, 'Just give me my scenes and let's rehearse and we'll go!' So we did this movie and I don't think it ever even came out. Then I heard that the whole thing was a tax write-off for the producers. Throughout my career, I did whatever work that I did, and then I let it go. What can you do? I never thought of a film as helping or not helping my career. I just wanted to work. That's all I ever wanted to do. I didn't even know what I was doing sometimes. All I ever wanted to do was work and make a living because I was on my own. Mommy was dead, Daddy was in a wheelchair, I didn't think about furthering my status. I was a journeyman actress. The only thing I ever did was that I stopped playing Mexican characters after awhile. Somebody at Universal wanted me to do a Mexican character and offered me a huge amount of money and I said to my agent Walter, 'Let's let a Nosotros person--an actual Mexican--play a Mexican. I'm not Mexican, I'm a mixed-up person of Alsatian and Dutch and Native American blood and whatever, but I'm not Mexican.' And Walter said, 'No! You have to work!' and I said, 'I just can't do it anymore.'"
During this time, Hill continued guest-starring on numerous television series. Notable among them was the "Soldier on the Hill" episode of the Aaron Spelling ABC crime drama, "S.W.A.T." which aired March 16, 1976. Hill played a glamorous movie star held hostage by a mentally unstable Vietnam veteran who has reverted back to his wartime memories during on a studio tour. While watching a scene involving firearms being filmed, the military veteran believes he is back in combat in Vietnam as he takes Hill and her chauffeur (played by Hoke Howell) hostage on the studio backlot. A solid and suspenseful episode, Hill recalls how, "I remember that one well, and that guy who held me hostage was a Vietnam veteran and that was a hairy and crazy show. I remember there were all these S.W.A.T. teams running up and down buildings and he was mentally ill from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That was really dramatic, I liked that one." She also guest-starred as a jewel thief attempting to rob priceless treasures in the January 2, 1977 episode of the NBC mystery series "Quincy, M.E." Shot on Catalina Island, Hill recalls how, "I was out on this boat and we were in the harbor and I remember working with Jack Klugman and liking him very much. What an earthy guy, just like Robert Duvall. And so we were on this boat, and I don't know what it was, and I can't explain it, but I just felt this spiritual force while we were out there on the water. I don't even know what it meant or anything, but it was something that happened, it was some sort of premonition about something. I still don't understand it, but it was like something came into my consciousness. I know I sound like a hippie, and it has never happened before or since while I was working, but that's what happened while we were filming on this boat."
Marianna Hill returned to the horror genre when she played glamorous 1920s/1930s movie star Lorna Love in the ABC Movie of the Week "Death at Love House" (1976) which aired September 3, 1976. Robert Wagner and Kate Jackson played a young married couple, Joel and Donna Gregory, who move into Lorna's Hollywood mansion, 40 years after her sudden death, to do research for a book about her life. In the course of the movie, Joel, whose father had a passionate affair with Lorna, becomes obsessed with the image of the long-lost star. Living with them at the estate is the mysterious housekeeper, Mrs. Josephs (Sylvia Sidney), who tells Joel that Lorna and his father were destined to be together. Throughout the film, the spirit of Lorna hangs over the house, and causes several near-fatal incidents for Donna. At the end, Donna realizes that Lorna (who was badly disfigured in a fire) never died and staged her death in order to fool the public into believing that she had retained her beauty all of her life, and that Mrs. Josephs is really the disfigured Lorna in disguise. At the end, Lorna dies for real when she sets fire to the shrine on her estate that houses what had previously appeared to be the perfectly preserved body of Lorna. After Sylvia Sidney is unmasked at the end, Hill resumes the role of the aged, disfigured Lorna, her once proud figure now characterized by sadness and pathos. In the fire, the perfectly preserved body of Lorna encased in the tomb is revealed to be a wax figure melting in the heat. Hill enthusiastically describes her memories of making "Death at Love House," "I remember that film very well. I was an old movie star and I was all mixed up in bad things. I put a spell on Robert Wagner throughout the movie by telling him, 'Love me! Love me!' My whole part was just saying [deep voice] 'Love me! Love me!' and I put some voodoo on him, which was so much fun on that show because I played such a freak on it. It was great. I also thought Sylvia Sidney, who was such a great actress in the 1930s and 1940s, was wonderful in that film."
Hill further recalls how an incident that occurred during the making of "Death at Love House" inadvertently had a positive, long-lasting impact on her life, "That was me playing Lorna at the end with all of that elderly and burned make-up. What was interesting about it was that the crew couldn't look at me. I asked, 'What's the matter with you, guys? You've never seen a person in old and burned make-up?' They all said, 'I can't believe what's happened to you!' And I responded, 'Wait a minute! Nothing's happened to me! Get over it! We're in a movie here and I'm just playing this part!' It was such grotesque make-up, with everybody turning their faces away from me, that I thought, 'Oh, this is bad! This is what happens when you're old! You just look like this and everybody acts like idiots!' Can you imagine? I just remember the make-up and how the crew reacted to me, and that was such a shock to my system. At first they were liking me because I was kind of cute and everything, and then I had this old bag make-up on, which just made me look old--not bad, just old! So I took a big look at myself--somebody took a Polaroid of this make-up--and I thought, 'You're not ever going to look like this, baby! This is not where I'm going!' (laugh) I just didn't want to turn into this old bag where people averted their faces! It was so hurtful! That movie changed my life because after that I got into health food and drinking juice and exercise because I've always had allergies, when I wasn't paying attention to my health. I thought, 'If I don't want to end up looking and becoming like that old bag, I've got to start paying attention to my allergies and my diet and my health.' That incident actually changed my life for the better because I became obsessed with healthy living. I never drank, never smoked, I didn't take drugs--although I did do silly things like eating sweets and stuff--but after that movie I thought, 'I saw how they looked at me and I am not going there!' (laugh)"
Hill continued with the horror genre with "The Astral Factor" (1976) also known as "The Invisible Strangler." Starring Robert Foxworth, Stefanie Powers, Elke Sommer, Sue Lyon, Leslie Parrish, and Cesare Danova, Hill played one of several women who are being stalked by a convicted murder who they testified against at trial. The killer, through astral projection, is able to escape prison by turning himself invisible. Hill played a glamorous movie star who is murdered by the killer while staying on a yacht. After mentioning the film by referencing its alternate title "The Invisible Strangler," Hill responds, "Listen, that was not supposed to be called that. That was supposed to be some show that my agent Walter sent me to do. He said, 'Go do this!' and I remember that I asked, 'What is it? Where's the script?' and he said, 'Just go over there!' So I said, 'OK, Walter!' Walter would always tell me what to do. He was like an Uncle, he was like part of me. And then they changed the title of it and it became something else. I remember some fan wrote me a letter where he asked 'Why did you do these bad movies like 'The Invisible Strangler'?' and I thought, 'How dare you! What's it to you, buddy? You didn't have to make a living! Your mom didn't die! Your father wasn't in a wheelchair! Don't you ask me why did I do something inferior? I didn't mean it to be inferior. That was just a job where I wanted to do the best work that I could do! You have my life and try to make a living when you're just this dumb kid who doesn't know anything!' I remember it had very good actors in it. Robert Foxworth is great. Sue Lyon was exquisite. She's like an early Britney Spears. I loved Cesare Danova, he was amazing. What a cast! You know what? You can get the greatest cast together, and if something is missing, if there's no element, there's nothing in the script or if the chemistry is not there, you've got nothing. You can have Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Jackie Kennedy--put them all together and it doesn't work because the chemistry just doesn't work for some reason. It could be the script, or it could be that it doesn't work with this group of people in this particular circumstance. You just never know, and I think 'The Astral Factor,' 'The Invisible Strangler,'--whatever you want to call it--is probably one of those circumstances."
Hill next starred in the CBS TV movie "Relentless" (1977), which aired on September 14, 1977. Hill played a woman taken hostage by a paramilitary group who has robbed a local bank in Arizona. A Native American state trooper, whose uncle was killed by the bank robbers, follows them in hot pursuit. Based on a Brian Garfield novel, and shot on rugged locations in Arizona and Utah, "Relentless" is a surprisingly adult and intense suspense drama characterized by solid performances from the entire cast. After being cast in a series of unsympathetic and ambiguous characters, Hill excels as a sympathetic, feisty heroine of strong moral fiber so that the character rises above being a stereotypical "damsel in distress." When asked, Hill warmly recalls, "We filmed that out in the desert and in the woods. I was a woman living out on the ranch and I ended up being kidnapped by these bank robbers and that wonderful Native American actor, Will Sampson, played the lead and led the search party for me. It was kind of a far-fetched story because it was never really explained why I was living by myself out on that ranch with my dog. It was a rather odd situation because most people living on a ranch have some sort of extended family. I often thought while filming it, 'What is my character doing out here all by myself?' but that was the character and that was the plot. I also remember that my character was tied up to a post in that film and I was freezing because we were filming in the snow. All of the actors were very good to work with on that film. Larry Wilcox was a very nice and very decent person. John Lawlor was also just a lovely person, so was Monte Markham. And Will Sampson had a whole different kind of sensibility and gravitas about him. He was very mysterious and you couldn't just sit around and have light weight small talk with him because he wasn't chatty. He was the sort of individual who would have something profound to talk about a variety of subjects. I admired his restraint on the set because he didn't feel as if he had to show off or tell jokes or try to entertain the crew. As with any good actor, Will Sampson would just focus on conserving his energy for his work."
While discussing the making of "Relentless," Hill also recalls how the actors were so dedicated to their roles, and inspired by the ruggedness and remoteness of the filming locations, that they worked hard at bringing depth and nuance to the film that went beyond what was expected for a 1970s-era TV Movie of the Week, "What made that film interesting to work on was that there was all of these men, and they had this contest between them where they would rewrite the script on the set. They were all kind of directing that film themselves. Because it was an almost all-male cast, they had this bond between them and John Hillerman became like their guru. It became like a men's club where they didn't want their wives there because they just wanted to be hanging out with the boys. I understood why they did it. It was because something happened where we formed a unit and John Hillerman became the leader and overseer of that unit. They had become this boy's club where no girls could get in. I didn't mind it because I just had to do what I was there for, which was to be kidnapped and get into the whole place where my character was. They made script changes and created all of this kind of choreography for the action scenes involving fights with the heroes and antagonists. In their own way, they took over the film by asserting their own point of view. There was a bit of a machismo attitude where one of them would say, 'I'm going to do it this way' and the other actor would say, 'No, I'm going to do it that way' because they had different concepts on how the movie should be. There were no rifts, but there was a lot of that kind of male competitiveness like in a football game where they were working on two different teams. It actually was very good for that film where it created a certain warrior-like energy and dynamic that I could feel when I was working with them. There was a camaraderie and family dynamic that formed on that set and it's in environments, such as the one on 'Relentless,' where you have a chance at doing good work."
Towards the beginning of the 1980s, Hill returned to the horror genre when she starred as the female lead in the Cannon slasher film "Schizoid" (1980). Hill played a newspaper advice columnist attending group therapy sessions while going through a divorce. She starts receiving threatening letters in the mail while her fellow therapy patients are being brutally murdered by a scissor wielding psychopath. At the top of the list of suspects are her psychiatrist (who she is also having an affair with) played by German film star Klaus Kinski, and her ex-husband (Craig Wasson). When asked, Hill candidly admits that "Schizoid" is "another one that I don't want to talk about. It's too complicated. Klaus was having problems with the staff and production crew. He was under contract and he just didn't want to be in that movie, but they held him to the contract and so he was conflicted. But what a great talent he was! I liked working with him and the rest of the cast--including Christopher Lloyd, Richard Herd, Joe Regalbuto, and Craig Wasson--because we all just went for it. I remember my character worked in an office, and there were all these other characters who were working with me in a newspaper, and all these murders were going on around me. All actors, unless they can't act or unless they've not been trained, we all create a backstory for our characters: 'Why is he in this thing? How did she get this job? And who is this guy according to his own point of view?' And that's what you do as an actress. You get everything going and, because of that, then you get a structure, but after you've finished the job, the structure goes out the window because it's finished. But the character stays with you because that's all about you and your work. That's what I did to prepare for my character while filming that movie."
Hill also recalls that "the director of 'Schizoid' was very helpful during the movie. David Paulsen, what a nice and lovely guy. He had to deal with difficult circumstances. Producer Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus were these really hard-working Israeli guys and they were driven to just keep going and make movies. They insisted that Klaus do that movie and he wanted something else, you see, and that was the conflict on 'Schizoid.' David had to deal with that because you don't want to have an actor who doesn't want to be there. I don't blame Klaus! He didn't like the part or something, I don't know what was going on. You can't get involved in that, like when people have romances on the set, because it has nothing to do with you. But, as a talent, what a great talent Klaus was, and David Paulsen was the sweetest person and he just did a good job. Although these things sometimes happen, during the filming of one of the violent scenes, one of the actors accidentally stabbed another actor in the back with a knife. And that actor was wounded and had to go to the hospital, but it was an accident. I remember the other actor was contrite, 'I don't know how that happened!' Sometimes strange things happen on movies. I remember, because I was in every scene, I had to show up at 5:00 AM in the morning and I'd say, 'OK, what are we going to do now guys? I feel like the man around here keeping our family together.' It was a challenging production, but David kept it together, which is a very difficult thing to do. I remember he was so stressed, he would come running in every morning before I was ready and say, 'Are you ready Marianna?' and I'd respond 'I've only been here for half an hour. I still haven't done my eyelashes! Women need an hour in make-up, David!' because it's true! You can't run in and do it in half an hour because you've also got to do your hair then. He was hoping to get on with it and make this movie which I understood because that was his job. I remember I'd have to kick him out and say, 'Come on now: Do you really think I can get both my hair and make-up done in half an hour? Come on!' (laugh)"
Hill next starred in "Blood Beach," a fanciful throwback to the science-fiction horror films of the 1950s. She starred as a divorcee who investigates the mysterious disappearance of her mother, who was sucked into the sand and eaten alive by a monster living under the beach in Santa Monica. David Huffman played her former boyfriend, a lifeguard who helps her investigate her mother's whereabouts. John Saxon and Burt Young played police detectives looking into the strange series of disappearances of people at the beach. What distinguishes "Blood Beach" is its emphasis on character so that its ensemble cast of people come off as real individuals at times, and not just mere plot devices. Both Hill and Huffman register sympathetically as a couple who grow close again as a result of her mother's disappearance. In the scene where Hill discusses her impending divorce from an airline pilot, you forget you're watching a monster movie because of how she plays the scene from a subtle and sympathetic perspective. Hill recalls that, "'Blood Beach' was supposed to be with Tom Selleck. I never could figure this out about 'Blood Beach,' but he didn't end up doing it. It doesn't matter because, again, we just had so much fun and we just loved each other. Everybody in the cast got along like a house on fire. I remember that monster in the movie because I went to my acting teacher for help with a scene involving the monster--that's how hard I worked. If I ever thought I couldn't do a scene on my own, I'd go to a teacher. And I said to my teacher Johnny--who has now gone to heaven, may he rest in peace--I said, 'Johnny, what am I supposed to do? This dog gets stuck under the sand and gets eaten by the monster!' And Johnny went, 'OK, Marianna, here's your acting adjustment. Here's the deal when your dog goes under' and I remember doing that scene and I went 'Fifer? Fifer? Ahhh!' (Screams and then laughs) I remember the dog's name was Fifer. 'Oh Fifer!' (laugh) The cast was great on that movie. John Saxon was the nicest guy I ever met. He's so sweet and so vulnerable and so likable. He's just an angel. And poor David Huffman. David Huffman got murdered! He was working on something and he went to a park or walked to a park and he was murdered. It was the greatest tragedy, the most horrible thing! I can't tell you how terrible I felt when I heard that. What a dear and wonderful person. Just a lovely guy and gifted actor. And Burt Young was just such a pro! He'd show up and he had that wonderful presence and he would just go for it! And of course you know that he came from the Actors Studio and he was working like a dog to make it perfect!"
Hill also appreciated her experience on "Blood Beach" because it allowed her an opportunity to play a sympathetic character she deeply respected, "I liked my character in 'Blood Beach' because she was an OK gal. She was so sincere, you know? I thought, 'Well this is not bad to be sincere instead of a bad girl or Mexican or some other anti-type.' When you get to be a very sincere person, deeply caring about whatever it was that I was caring about, you end up remembering that character vividly. I can remember characters far more than dialogue or plot or anything. That probably sounds crazy, but that's what you work with when you're an actor. The arc of the character: what happens to her here, how did she react to this, where does she go from there? It's like a map through life for your character. That's what I used to create that character and make her as sincere as she was."
In the 1980s, Marianna Hill's life and career went in a different direction. She still did the occasional TV guest role (like "Remington Steele") and theater appearance (including a production of "Spring at Marino," with David Groh, Judy Norton-Taylor and Tyrone Power, Jr. at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut in the summer of 1984 where the New York Times' theater critic wrote that Hill's "utter cool as Anna could inflame hearts as easily as her stunning demeanor obviously turns heads. To top it off, she has the style and subtlety to effect a transition from composure to real emotional revelation most effectively"), but was focusing on other aspects of her life. She recalls that the change in careers occurred because, "I was speaking with Baba, my guru, who everybody in those days turned to. I don't want to drop names, but everybody went to Baba and he would advise people and he was totally sincere. He's not a fake like a lot of them who are working and he never asked people for money. I remember I said to Baba, 'Oh, Baba! What do you think about me and my life and career? All I care about is my work.' And he said, 'Well, that's your problem. You care too much. You're too much into this and you need to get your feet planted to grow and nurture the other parts of your being, so to speak. I think you should go and teach acting. I want you to do this for your own good so you can achieve balance in your life because now you're all about being an actress. You can survive this way, but it's better for you to be a balanced individual to go and immerse yourself in working to teach other people. You can do this. All you do is teach. You're always advising people on how to put their make-up on and what health food to eat and what yoga to do and what color to wear, and making suggestions, and you have a need to do that. I'm thinking in your family you were like a mother.' He really knew me, and so I thought about it and decided to pursue his suggestion.
After considering her Guru's advice, she moved to New York and started teaching acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute, where she taught Method acting and began developing a professional reputation as one of the foremost instructors of the craft. Hill recalls the challenge of going from being an actress to learning how to teach the craft to pupils, "I had moved to New York and, when I was living there, I'd go over to the Actors Studio and observe all the wonderful work that was going on over there. And then I'd go over to Mr. Strasberg's school because there's a way of teaching acting which Mr. Strasberg taught us which is half of the class is doing technique, which I can't get into here. It's too complicated to explain, but the other half of the class is when they do scene work. There were a lot of good teachers there, like Al Pacino's teacher Charlie Laughton. I would go work in Charlie's class and Charlie would say, 'Well, Marianna, you forgot to do this and you forgot to do that.' So I was learning how to be a teacher. I'd do some scene and I'd think, 'Well, let's put this scene together and see what Charlie says' and he was brilliant! He'd say, 'Oh, Marianna, you didn't bring the weather with you! There's a third person in every scene and that's the weather!' So that's part of the process I went through to learn how to teach acting."
In 1986, while living on the East Coast, Hill was approached about appearing in a low-budget satire about a New York real estate developer (Allen Garfield) who dabbles in politics. Written and directed by actor Zack Norman (who, as 'Howard Zuker,' co-financed and presented the 1974 Academy Award®-winning anti-war documentary "Hearts & Minds") and playwright, journalist, and former agent Neil Cohen, "Chief Zabu" was shot on a budget of $186,966 during a 15 day shooting schedule in the Spring of 1986 at Bard College in New York. As co-writer and co-director Neil Cohen recalls, "Zack Norman and I were writing scripts together and he told me a story about an event he had gone to at the Sherry Netherland Hotel in New York. He had been brought there by a bunch of real estate, financial and business types to meet a man named Chief Clemons Kapuuo who was trying to get his homeland recognized by the United Nations. Chief Kapuuo was from Namibia and seemed like a decent guy but Zack knew that everybody in that suite was a hustler of one sort or another. Also there, for some reason, was Elizabeth Taylor and a bunch of other celebrities who knew nothing about Southwest Africa except that, on that afternoon, that hotel suite was the place they thought they should be. Zack thought that this event, crowded with hustlers and celebrities, was the most preposterous thing. Unfortunately, Chief Kapuuo did not meet a happy ending. But when Zack told me the story I thought that there was something we could make out of these sharks swimming around this sincere guy who was trying to do something for his country. We decided to set the opening of our story in Polynesia. At the time, the French colonies in the South Pacific were trying to win their independence while France was still testing nuclear weapons there. There was nothing funny about atom bombs, but people have a fantasy about Polynesia and we decided to write a satirical comedy where we made fun of the sharks who intended to capitalize on a new nation's efforts to be recognized by the UN, and not make fun of Chief Zabu himself. We wanted to recognize the irony that in our movie every white person who meets Chief Zabu, no matter how fleetingly, is going to profit from it, either personally or professionally, but that the Chief was going to get screwed in the end. So we wrote it and Zack raised a small amount of money and we found a way to make it."
A key component in the casting of "Chief Zabu" was the participation of Neil Cohen's friend, the great character actor Allen Garfield. Cohen recalls his friendship with Garfield came about because "My future wife and I were on a holiday walking around Rome on a hot day and we stopped to buy an ice cream and the guy coming out of the ice cream shop was Allen Garfield. I said hello and he was amazed I knew who he was and we spent the afternoon and evening wandering around Rome with Allen Garfield, who was there shooting 'The Black Stallion Returns' (1983). When we got back to New York, the next thing you know is that we had a new friend. Allen would knock on our door and join us and our friends for Thanksgiving and other events. When Zack and I were trying to figure out who we should have to play the lead, Ben Sydney, I said, 'What about Allen Garfield?' and Zack said, 'Great!' So I sent Allen the script and we met at Zack's office/apartment and Zack and Allen got along and we read some scenes aloud from the script and, in the end, Allen said, 'Yeah! Let's do it! I'm in!'"
With great enthusiasm for the project, Allen Garfield was able to convince some of his friends to participate in the film. Neil Cohen recalls that, during the casting process, "We went through the Players Guide, which in those days it was the size of a phone book and had photographs of actors and their contact info. So Allen looked through it and said, 'I can bring in this person, let me call this one and that one.' The actors he brought in were from the Actors Studio like Manu Tupuo, who plays Chief Zabu, and Shirley Stoler. Allen said, 'This part here, Marianna Hill can probably make something out of it' and I said, 'Gee, I don't think she'll do it. It's just three lines of dialogue.' Allen said, 'Let's call her anyway and find out.' We didn't audition anyone else for the part. It was a sight-gag role--we needed someone who looked like a movie star type--and I think in the script the character was intended to be much younger. In the script, the part originally consisted of her appearing at the party for Chief Zabu and everybody murmuring, 'What's Jennifer Holding from 'The Deluded Chimp' doing here?' and Allen marches over and introduces himself and her line was, 'I'm not interested in talking about my career. I'm just here for Chief Zabu' and a couple of other lines and a punchline about her house in Beverly Hills. So there wasn't much of a part actually to cast. We figured we would just find somebody during the course of pre-production. So when Allen said, 'Let's call Marianna, I think she's in town,' we were like, 'We're kind of embarrassed to offer her such a small part. If you want to call her, you can call her!' And then Allen reported back, 'She wants to know when to show up! Who's going to meet her at the train station in Rhinebeck?' So that's how that casting happened. Who knew that we were going to get this excellent, beautiful, and brilliant actress who was going to re-envision the role for us?"
Marianna Hill played Jennifer Holding in "Chief Zabu" as a movie star dabbling in political causes in an attempt to bring some meaning to her existence. Hill confirms that Allen Garfield's participation in the film was a principal factor of her accepting the role, "The reason I did 'Chief Zabu' is that Allen Garfield is from the Actors Studio, I'm from the Actors Studio and we worked together there on stuff. So he said, 'Oh, Marianna, please come help me with this movie.' And I said, 'I'd be glad to work with you,' because Allen Garfield happens to be a great actor. He's a really underrated actor. Allen was the hardest working actor, but nobody realizes that about him because he seems to be a natural. Well, forget it: he'd work on everything to get it right because I worked on plays with him. He's really extraordinary. We'd do this sort of 'Secret Service' kind of talk where we'd collaborate together on the characters and the scene and make choices on how to play it. Boy, Allen is really about getting into the detail and the minutiae and that's what acting's all about because that's what people are all about! So we did this movie, 'Chief Zabu,' and we shot it in upstate New York and it turned into this incredible, fun thing to do. I remember how Allen would say, 'Marianna, do you know what I'd like to see from you in this movie?' and I'd say, 'OK, give me the low-down!' He was just amazing to work with because of his inspired choices, and whatever choice he made really worked! And I loved working with Zack Norman and Neil Cohen. I love them. They're great guys and they're very warm and caring and creative. They're both very intelligent individuals and they had this whole concept for 'Chief Zabu' and I just trusted them because I felt that these guys knew what they were doing with this movie. I especially enjoyed working with Neil, who is like some kind of genius."
Neil Cohen returns the whole-hearted compliment and sense of professional respect and recalls that, "When the perfect person shows up, you're not going to have her come all this way and give her only three lines. We were all moving very, very quickly, but probably the night before, or the morning of shooting that reception scene, I said to her, 'What do you want to do with this part?' And she said, 'Well, we could try this and that and give me some lines to tell me who she is' and we very quickly gave her some lines about rage and 'Nobody can control my rage!' and I suggested, 'Your character could talk about her mother' and Marianna said, 'I get it! I know what this is. Let me think about it. We'll have some fun. I know Allen. We'll get each other crazy and it'll be funny.' I want to give her credit: We called 'Action!' and there she went. When you shoot something like that, you don't know what the actors are going to come up with. As long as we had the four or five lines that we needed for the plot and for some humor, we would've quit right then and there. But, all of a sudden, she's so fantastic that we thought, 'OK, let's go for a medium shot, let's go in for a close shot, let's do a reverse on Allen, let's just keep the camera running so they're just gazing at each other.' And the next thing we knew we were like, 'Man, this chemistry between them is so great, let's stick them in Central Park walking together and let's give her another speech in Beverly Hills.' Zack and I sat down and concocted a big moment for her at a party in Beverly Hills where she's married to Allen and he's running for Congress. We shot that Beverly Hills scene in a house in Great Neck that had a crazy, round indoor pool, which was hilarious. So much came about because of what she created in that one scene she originally had with Allen. Marianna and Allen really worked well together. Knowing the two of them, I'm sure they were getting each other's goat like brother and sister, you know? They had the same training about becoming characters and listening to the other person and reacting to what the other person would do. You stand those two people in front of the camera, and something's going to happen. I'll give you a perfect example: When they were walking in Central Park, and then all of a sudden she kisses Allen, that wasn't scripted and you can tell from Allen's reaction! He was stupefied and then he went for it. Her instinct was: 'Pow! This is nice, two people walking and chatting on a beautiful day. Let me take it up a notch, let me throw some jalapeno on that thing' and she gave us such a hilarious punchline to that scene. Allen's reaction, you can't premeditate that! When Marianna was in L.A. recently for the 'Chief Zabu' screening, we talked about her agreeing to take such a small part in the film. She said that she doesn't understand how actors don't take a part because it's too small. She said, 'It's not my training. Just go in and make something out of it! Maybe it'll get bigger, or maybe it'll be just a great small role or maybe it'll be just a great fun line?' She had no hesitation to do 'Chief Zabu' because of the size of the role. She said, 'Here was something involving people that I respected and it sounded like an unusual, experimental film being shot. Why wouldn't I do it?'"
After filming wrapped on "Chief Zabu," the movie ended up not being released for 30 years. Neil Cohen explains, "We did the movie and we cut it into the conventional 90 minutes and that version had problems. That's not surprising since we shot the thing so fast. In that longer version, the movie would sort of stop and start in terms of its energy level. There were more subplots and a bunch more setting up of the story stuff at the beginning. Even so, one distributor did love the movie and then he went bankrupt before it got distributed. Zack and I were tired at that point and Zack was getting jobs in Hollywood movies and I had just sold my first Hollywood script and we just decided that at some point we would get back to it. There were people chasing us to put it into their distribution packages and what-not but we weren't happy with how the movie played at the length it was. We just said, 'Let's just punt it. Let's not put out something that we're not proud of.' We had high hopes for it and we enjoyed the experience of making it and we just said, 'We'll get back to it!' and we just didn't for 30 years. Over the years, 'Chief Zabu' became this kind of mystery. People would discuss it on the internet as this 'lost film' and there was even all this crazy chatter that it was all some kind of hoax and that it never actually existed!" As such, cast members like Marianna Hill were left wondering about the fate of "Chief Zabu."
|Conway Hall in London, home of The Lee Strasberg Studio (1987-2001) and The Method Studio (2001-2009), where Marianna Hill taught for 22 years.|
After filming "Chief Zabu," Hill's life and career went further in different directions. She moved to London in 1987 to run The Lee Strasberg Studio in the United Kingdom. She taught at the school until 2001 when it was reconfigured and renamed The Method Studio. She continued teaching at and running the new school until it closed in 2009. Since then, Marianna Hill continues teaching her craft at acting workshops throughout London as well as privately coaching pupils who are making a name for themselves in films, theater and television in the United Kingdom. Hill recalls that the decision to move to England occurred, "right after 'Chief Zabu,' which was such a great experience. Anna Strasberg, Lee's widow, said "Oh, Marianna, I'd love for you to teach for me in England. I'm opening up a school in London.' So that's what happened. I ran The Lee Strasberg Studio for many years, and then I taught at The Method Studio for many more years. I don't like to keep track of time, but that's what I did for more than 20 years." Even though Marianna Hill has found her role as an acting instructor both rewarding and challenging, she also acknowledges, "To tell you the truth, teaching is the hardest job I've ever learned. You're dealing with people who are *so* different from one another and on such different levels of talent and enthusiasm and ability. That's what's tough about it, it's much different than acting."
During this time, Marianna Hill's second cousin, United States Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. was making a name for himself as the leader of coalition forces in the Gulf War from August 2, 1990 to February 28, 1991. Hill enjoyed seeing her cousin lauded and recognized for his accomplishments. She recalls while watching news coverage of the Gulf War every night, "I was thrilled to see the hard work he was doing. I thought, 'That's my family! God bless him! There's my blood out there fighting the good fight!' I was thrilled and proud that he was in charge of such a huge responsibility because he was such a great man. Wouldn't you be proud to be related to him? I admit I wasn't afraid for him because I knew he was going to be all right. He had some kind of power, and I can't explain it: Somebody is looking after this family because we're all excitable and dramatic and volatile in our natures, but nothing really bad happens to any of us. We don't have horrible accidents in cars, we don't die of horrible diseases. No matter what happens, we seem to survive. And I always believe that somehow or other, we're just very fortunate that God is protecting us. I really believe that, and I was never afraid for Norman as a result because he's this big guy and I just thought, 'He's just got so much gravitas and charisma and so much power that he would take care of himself.' And, by the way, Norman Schwarzkopf was a real intellectual. He didn't want to go to war. He talked against it. He said, 'That's just crazy! Why should we do that?' There are a lot of reasons why he was not what some people might refer to as a big 'warmonger,' so to speak, but he was sent there and he did his duty. He was a very interesting man. He was complicated and very intelligent. I'm very proud that I'm related to him and he's related to me. I'm totally proud of it."
While describing her utmost respect and affection for her renowned cousin, Hill further recalls, "He was just the most outstanding person. I remember one time when I saw him I just fell over, I was just so thrilled. Oh my God! I just loved him. He radiated this incredible power and he was just warm and loving. I gave him a picture of our Great Granddad, Christian Schwarzkopf. He thanked me and said, 'I've never seen this before' and I said, 'Well, here it is. I didn't think you had' because he had never seen Christian. And, you know, we talked about the family. He knew all about my whole side of the family, he knew about Rudy and everybody. I didn't get to see him a lot because I lived here in England for a long time, and he lived there in Florida, but we kept in touch by exchanging Christmas cards."
Even though Marianna Hill didn't see her cousin often, she recalls that when he passed away in 2012, "I fell down when I was storming a mountain showing off. I was climbing this mountain in Wales and I said, 'Well, look at me, I'm 'Nature Boy'' because they would call Grampa Schwarzkopf 'Nature Boy.' He was Alsatian and hearty and loved to climb mountains. He was very strong. I started to show off while climbing a mountain and I rolled down the mountain and crushed my leg! (laugh) I had to be shipped back to England so they could put my leg back together. It's fine now, it's really nothing big, but I was in the hospital for a week. When I came home, there was a light in the ceiling in my house in London that hasn't worked for 20 years--never did work, ever!--and the light was on. No electrician would ever fix them because they're up too high. The light was on and I thought, 'What's this mean? Why is this light on? What's just happened?' because I know what that means. I know it means that somebody's passed over. I went to sleep and I thought, 'Who's gone?' And in the morning my pupil called and said, 'Oh, Marianna, did you hear? Norman Schwarzkopf died.' And I thought, 'Oh no!...It was the light! That was Norman saying goodbye.' That's the truth! He had put the lights on in my ceiling and they have never worked before and they never worked since. Norman must have turned the lights on to say goodbye. There's no other explanation for it. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend his funeral because my leg was in that cast and my doctors told me I couldn't travel. I would have definitely attended if I didn't have this fractured leg."
Even though relatives have passed away, Marianna Hill remains proud of the legacy that the members of her family have imparted to her, "Sometimes, when I'm facing a challenging situation and in a bad mood I think 'What about Schwarzkopf?! You've got their genes! Schwarzkopf are good genes to have! You can survive this!' That's how I see life. I've got these wonderful people: Rudy my grandfather, cousin Norman, Daddy. They all persevered and survived and I think of them and that gives me strength and I'm OK. Wouldn't you be OK if you had these guys around you? I just want you to write good things about my Grampa and my Daddy and my cousin Norman. You don't have to say anything about me, but just my family, because that's more important to me than anything. I also want to mention that I was married to a wonderful man who died in an automobile accident. He was Argentinian with blond hair and blue eyes and he was a polo player and he was a lot of fun. But he cracked up his car and went off to Heaven and that's all I want to say about him because it's still a very painful, heartbreaking memory. I just want people to know that I had a substantial family and I'm proud of them. They're more important than I am or my acting career, and springing forth from them, and having them in my life, was a miracle from God."
In the course of her teaching career, the subject of her own acting work has occasionally come up with pupils. However, Hill recognizes that her responsibility is to teach them the craft of acting and not self-indulgently drop names or boast about her accomplishments. As she explains, "I never talk about my career in class even though I teach actors. Sometimes my pupils will say stuff like, 'I Googled your name and I read about this or that about you.' And I say, 'Well, don't believe what you see on Google. Half of my credits are given to somebody else, and then they give me someone else's credits, and some websites give me the wrong age and the wrong birthplace. And somebody online says he's my cousin and he writes all of this stuff about me! So why do you go on the internet to read about me? Just stop it!' I don't like to talk about my career unless there's something really, really important that I think could be useful to them. I might say, 'Listen, I'm going to tell you what director so-and-so once said about acting,' but I don't say that he said it to me because I don't want to show off. I just want to teach them that this technique will work, that technique won't work, acting is a craft, here is some information, etc. But when pupils say to me, 'I went on the internet and I read this about you and I saw you on YouTube,' I just say, 'Would you please run around the corner and get some air in your head?' (laugh) It's true what I say and a lot of times they actually do run around the corner and I think, 'Oh my God! Is this the millennial generation? Who are these people?!' (laugh) But, you know what? My pupils are very good people, I love them dearly, and they want to learn. God bless them, they're not sitting around moaning. They're serious about their craft and they're eager to learn and that's the most important thing to me, much more important than talking about myself or who I worked with."
While working primarily as a Method Acting instructor in England, Hill continued to find time to practice her craft by appearing occasionally in plays. In 2005, Hill made a rare appearance in the British-made indie feature "Coma Girl: The State of Grace," (which won the Viewer's Voice Award at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California in 2007). Written, directed by, and starring Dina Jacobsen, "Coma Girl" concerned the adventures of Grace Anderson (played by Jacobsen), a data processor who is wandering through life and attempting to find a sense of purpose. Through surreal, comedic, stream of consciousness vignettes, the film depicts Grace's efforts to deal with the people and world around her. Despite modest production values, "Coma Girl" distinguishes itself by offering good performances and humorous moments that make it a worthwhile venture. Hill appears briefly late in the film in a surreal flashback where she plays Grace's mother, who is in the process of humiliating and degrading her daughter. Hill recalls that she became involved with the film because, "I had a pupil named Steve Froelich who wrote the most wonderful plays. He would come to class and say, 'Oh, Marianna, I want you to be in one of my plays.' And I said, 'Anything!' So we went up to Wales and we did this fabulous play called 'They Offered Bob and Wilma Cash.' Dina Jacobsen happened to be Steve's pal and Dina rang me and said, 'I'm Steve's buddy. Please be my mother in my movie, 'Coma Girl,'' I said, 'For you, I'll do it because I love Steve! Just tell me whatever it is you want me to do.' She said, 'I just want you to yell at your daughter in this scene!' The thing is, I never saw a script, I had no idea what it was about, but Dina Jacobsen is an adorable girl, very sincere, and I knew she was going to do some good work. Intuitively, I knew that because she's no airhead, she's a really creative gal, and how could I resist? So I turn up in her living room and I said, 'What do you want me to do here?' She said, 'I just want you to curse and chew your daughter out!' I said, 'I'll do it! I'll curse her out!' So I did an Actors Studio adjustment, which is about mothers and daughters. I just did somebody's mother that I knew and the mother was just not nice. I've never seen the film but, for Dina, I'll do anything. If she wants me to help her open up a toiletry shop in Leicester Square, sure, I'll do it because she's just a dear, talented person that you just want to support."
|"Chief Zabu" co-director Neil Cohen and Marianna Hill|
During the last year, the film Marianna Hill worked on before moving to England, "Chief Zabu," was finally being prepared for a theatrical release. After sitting on the shelf for three decades, filmmakers Neil Cohen and Zack Norman were inspired to complete their film about a New York real estate developer dabbling in politics because of Donald Trump's Presidential campaign. Cohen explains that, "Last November 2015, Zack and I were having dinner and we said, 'Isn't this wild? This guy Trump, he reminds us of our main character Ben Sydney.' And so we looked at it again and we hadn't looked at the movie in at least 25 years. We were surprised at how close it was to the real life situation in many ways without being an obvious parody. The fact that it wasn't a parody, but a satire that was speaking to the same issues, and with a character in the same milieu of New York and real estate, sparked us to take another crack at editing the movie. What also made the difference was the development of technologies that made it possible to re-edit it. Back in those days, you'd have to find some guy who would charge you $200 an hour to cut it on his Moviola. Re-cutting the movie became a thing we talked about, but we knew how overwhelming it would be to do something we didn't feel that there was any market for. Well, cut to 30 years later and there's a different market and new technology and, in order to cut something, you just need a Mac and find somebody who knows how to use it. We thought we'd just cut it to 40 minutes and post it online. But as we were narrowing it down--we were working with an editor and a guy doing color correction and working with a projectionist and working with a sound person--each of them kept saying, 'This is a really good movie and there's nothing like it out there.' So we showed it to a couple of people--like director Matt Piedmont, and Bob Rosen of UCLA, and Peter Bogdanovich--and they liked it and so we dug deep to get a couple of extra bucks to finish it. What was different about the experience 30 years later is that everything we did now was fun. There was no stress, there was no pressure, there was no disagreements and, maybe most of all, we had no outtakes which means we didn't spend months trying to build a different movie from scratch. We had what it was, and let's just fine-tune the stuff that we like, and get rid of the stuff that we don't like, and move some things around structure-wise if it made sense to do that. It was a real puzzle that had its parameters and now, at 74 minutes, it's a movie that some people love and some people hate, but that's OK. I'd rather have a movie that some people love and some people hate than have them feel indifference to it. But I think at its now snappy 74 minutes, it's a time capsule of independent filmmaking that speaks to issues of today that doesn't wear out its welcome."
|Zack Norman, Marianna Hill, Neil Cohen and Lucianne Buchanan at the premiere of "Chief Zabu"|
As he was completing the film and preparing it for release, Neil Cohen reached out to members of the cast and crew with the intention of inviting them all to the premiere in Santa Monica, California on October 28, 2016. One cast member Cohen hoped to reconnect with was Marianna Hill. As Cohen explains, "I didn't recall how brilliant she was in the movie until we got back into it and really had a chance to study her performance. Just as a politeness I would have reached out to her anyway but now I really wanted to let Marianna know that this was happening because she's so great in the movie. As you know, she has no internet or online presence, there's no way to track her down, and when people don't have that online presence, it usually means they don't want to be found. They're living a different life now and you want to respect that, you know? But I found somebody who worked with her in London and that individual helped facilitate putting me in contact with her again. That person checked with Marianna and got her permission to share her contact information in London. So I wrote Marianna a personal note on actual stationery and put a DVD of 'Chief Zabu' in the package and sent her a bunch of pictures from the movie. Some weeks later the phone rings and it was Marianna Hill, full of humor and energy and sounding unchanged from the person I knew and worked with 30 years ago. She said she loved the movie and said, 'I have business in Los Angeles that I'm supposed to come in and attend to. I'll try to coordinate my trip so I can attend the premiere.' And I said, 'If you do we'll make every effort to make you feel at home here and take care of you and make it a fun trip for you.' It was as simple as that. We wouldn't have imposed on her if it was something she didn't want, we wouldn't have made her a part of any publicity if she didn't want to participate in it. But she was all in. She said, 'How can I help? I want everybody to know about this movie!' It was great to have her participate in Q&As at the screenings in L.A. She was so much fun! She was full of laughter and enjoying the experience. At the screenings, if she sat there and we didn't introduce her, I think she would've said, 'OK, let's go get a beer now!' There was no ego at all! But when we did introduce her, people gave her a standing ovation and everybody wanted to chat with her. It was such great fun for her and such great fun for me. One night, Zack and myself and Marianna and a few other people went out for drinks after the screening and she was so nice and generous with these budding actors and actresses and answering every question they had. She advised them to 'Have a beer with a difficult director or difficult actor to work things out' or 'If you make some money as an actor, this is what to do or what not to do to take care of your finances.' It was so much fun to have her around."
|Marianna Hill discussing "Chief Zabu" at the premiere.|
Marianna Hill shares Neil Cohen's enthusiasm for "Chief Zabu" as she describes her reaction to attending the premiere screening for the film 30 years after completing her role in it, "I really loved working on 'Chief Zabu,' but it never came out and I thought, 'OK, well, that happens!' So finally, of course, it's now been put together. I saw it last night and I'll tell you something: This is a masterpiece and I'm not kidding! It reminded me of 'Pulp Fiction' and 'L.A. Confidential' and all of those kinds of movies where the creative team gets everyone together and they turn out this extraordinary work, and this is what 'Chief Zabu' is! The performances are just incredible because all of the actors are highly trained. Allen was there giving his all and working for very little money. And Betty Karlen is in it and she's a fabulous supporting gal! Shirley Stoler was amazing! Ed Lauter, who was a fantastic character actor! And Lucianne Buchanan--I didn't know anything about Lucianne before, but she stole the show! Look at her when she shows the picture of that car to Zack Norman, I almost fell over laughing! What great supporting actors! The supporting performances were impeccable because all of these people were old pros. Everybody in that cast has that spark, this latent ability to really be excellent, and that's why that movie works as well as it does. As for me, I thought, 'Well at least you were pretty!' I enjoyed looking at that person from another time. It was OK, it didn't upset me. I never used to like to watch myself, but I liked looking at myself because the movie was so funny. I was having a breathing attack because I was laughing so much. And to get me to laugh at anything is a challenge. So I see this movie I made 30 years ago, 'Chief Zabu,' and it was like opening up a jar of caviar and having a taste of it for the first time. It was extraordinary. You know what scene in it that I really like? I like the scene where I say to Allen Garfield, 'No man can deal with my anger! I can't find a man who can deal with my anger!' (laugh) Where does that come from? What a line! I loved saying it! I thought, 'Nobody's ever said that in a movie and now I'm going to say it! What a thing to say!' It was so funny! I'd never heard a leading woman say something like that in anything--no matter how bad girl or good girl they are--so for Neil and Zack to write that dialogue for me, these guys are geniuses. You have to be brilliant to write that dialogue. And yet everything is like that in the movie, like Lucianne and that sequence of the boys riding around in the car and talking and that dialogue that they did, and then Zack Norman showing that closet to these people looking for an apartment. Everything was just so fresh and alive in that picture. It was amazing!"
|Marianna Hill promoting "Chief Zabu"at the landmark Santa Monica video store Vidiots|
Neil Cohen is proud of the positive response he and Zack Norman have enjoyed with "Chief Zabu's" release and are working to ensure that the film continues to find an ever wider audience, "We've now had screenings in LA and at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival that have been well-received. We also got a wonderful, very detailed review of the film in the 'Hollywood Reporter,' and people have posted positive reviews of it on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. The biggest revelation from the screenings is we thought the only people who would possibly be interested in this were businessmen over 60 who knew who some of these actors were. We couldn't imagine that this movie would have any appeal to young people. But we found our best audience is young people and our highest ratings are from women. (laugh) I think it's because women find these guys funny, but the guys who are 50 and 60 think we're making fun of them--and we are! (laugh) Now we're working on a blue print for a sort of 'road show' engagement for the film in small markets that have an art house theater or are connected to a college that might have a film program, like Florida State, where we can take it and play it for a weekend and have a screening connected to the school and do a Q&A. There's been a lot of wonderful things that have happened with this movie, and reconnecting with Marianna Hill all these years later has truly been one of the high points of the experience of completing and releasing 'Chief Zabu.' Quite frankly, I knew her for all of three days back in 1986 when we worked on the film. And then we didn't see her for 30 years after that. I had a vague memory of working with someone who had a whole lot of energy, a lot of professionalism, had a real charisma and star quality. Who knew that bringing this film back would suddenly introduce me--introduce you and everyone else--to this wonderful person?"
Even after accomplishing much in the field of both acting and teaching in both the United States and England, Marianna Hill is not one to rest on her laurels, "I still privately coach pupils who are regularly working as actors here in England to help them with whatever it is they need to create for their roles. I'm also working with people who plan to create a new acting school and theater company in Australia. I plan to go there for a few months and work with them on getting all of that started and see what that offers. At this point in my life, I'm open to prospects for any kind of forward movement. Just like my grandfather said, I plan to just keep moving forward." When asked if she would ever consider a return to acting, Hill thoughtfully replies, "I loved acting and enjoyed my Hollywood career and, yet, I'm comfortable with who I am with my teaching career in London. All of that self-consciousness that comes with being an actress just isn't there, so I don't have to go around thinking, 'When will I ever work again?' or 'How do I look now?' That's the strangely comforting side of not having that life of working in Hollywood. I don't have to ask myself, 'Marianna, do you really want to go back there and be beaten down by the competitiveness of it all?' I know this will sound like some Tennessee Williams heroine, always waiting to be rescued or something, but if there were an acting opportunity that I didn't have to break my fingers for, I'd absolutely be interested in it. It's like a line that Tennessee wrote for 'Orpheus Descending' that says, 'You've got to catch at whatever comes near you, with both of your hands, and hold onto it until your fingers are broken!' That's how the business is: You've got to hold on with this incredible strength and struggle to survive as an actress in Hollywood, and I wonder if I would really want to do that. Although it would be nice for someone to say, 'I saw you in some old movie or TV show and I wondered if you would like to come and play this part?,' I don't have any illusions that the world is waiting for me to return to acting, because why would they? I'm always open for any sort of opportunities--whether it's teaching or acting or selling used cars (laugh)--but I'm realistic enough to know what a daunting challenge it would be to return to acting. However, I would love to work with Zack Norman and Neil Cohen again if they ever want to collaborate on another picture. They were wonderful to work with on 'Chief Zabu,' and I would welcome another chance for that kind of experience with them again."
Whatever decision Marianna Hill makes about her future, she remains proud of her accomplishments and is grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the many distinguished performers, directors and crew members she worked with during her acting career. When asked what she considers to be her best work, Hill replies, "I think it's moments in different things. I can't be objective about myself, but I am proud of my work in 'Red Line 7000,' 'Medium Cool,' 'High Plains Drifter,' 'The Godfather Part II,' and 'Chief Zabu.' I like moments from all of those. When I saw 'Chief Zabu' I thought, 'Well, look at her! She's got something. That really worked well there!' Usually, I can't look at myself because I get critical. With 'Chief Zabu,' I actually didn't mind looking at myself, which for me is a miracle. Usually, I think 'You need a nose job!' or 'Why didn't you get your teeth capped' or 'How come you didn't do this?' Anything I can do to criticize myself! But I think certain moments worked in different things, and I can say that I did good work on those films in particular." Though she remains proud of her acting career, Hill readily acknowledges how teaching has proven to be the more rewarding vocation in her life, "In teaching, a great deal of it is giving and the challenge is that sometimes what you give out--whether it's guidance about acting or about life in-general--is not acted upon or learned or absorbed by some of the pupils. The reason I think teaching is, ultimately, worthwhile and rewarding is because, at some point, it sinks in with them. It's just like my experience of going to school with the nuns at the convent when I was a young girl. All of us girls in the convent hated the nuns and we resisted what they were trying to teach us. But, years later, after leaving the convent, I looked back and I realized, 'What a lucky person I was. Those nuns devoted their lives to other people and to a love of a higher power and did whatever they could to instill some kind of substance into us.' We didn't get it at the time but, when I speak with my classmates about this, we all get it now. We are all so grateful that we had those gals who were so devoted and caring and taught us wisdom and discipline that was indefinable and invaluable. That's what I feel happens eventually with my pupils where they can look back and take everything that I have taught them and put it to work into their craft and into their lives. That's really the point of teaching, so that at someplace and somewhere in somebody's life, I will have made a difference. That's everything and that's more important than acting."