Once upon a time in Euphrania, a tiny kingdom somewhere in Central Europe, live two unhappy people – a sad young girl and a proud young prince – trapped in their two very different worlds . . .
Following the death of her father, poor Cinderella (Gemma Craven) has been left in the care of her unfriendly step-mother (Margaret Lockwood) who has two spoiled and simpering daughters of her own, Isobella (Rosalind Ayres) and Palatine (Sherrie Hewson).Cinderella must resign herself to a life of loneliness and humiliation – a servant in her own home – or go to an orphanage.
Poor Prince Edward (Richard Chamberlain).His doting parents the King and Queen of Euphrania (Michael Hordern and Lally Bowers) and their pompous Lord Chamberlain (Kenneth More) are hoping for a marriage of alliance between their only son and the Princess Selena of the neighboring kingdom of Carolsfeld.
After an expedition to Carolsfeld with his young companion John (Christopher Gable), the Prince announces to a stricken Court that he has no intention of taking a wife who is bald and toothless.He insists that he will only marry for love . . . if that can ever be.
During a stolen visit to her parents’ graveside, Cinderella is disturbed by the Prince and John returning from a hunting trip.The Prince glimpses Cinderella fleeing into the distance.
Cinderella’s step-mother punishes her by giving her a mountain of vegetables to peel.
Back at the Castle, John confesses to the Prince that he and Lady Caroline (Polly Williams), lady-in-waiting to the Dowager Queen (Dame Edith Evans), are in love, but Court protocol, as ever, bars their way.
The Lord Chamberlain still pursuing constitutional solution to a princely problem, proposes a Great Ball at the castle to which every eligible princess in Europe shall be invited.Such a “bride contest” horrifies the Prince, but his weedy cousin Montague (Julian Orchard) is overjoyed.
In her kitchen prison, Cinderella is working her weary way through the never-ending chores when there’s a tap at the door.A mysterious woman (Annette Crosbie) asks for shelter and, when she leaves, Cinderella has become the owner of a mongrel dog.
Cinderella’s step-mother can hardly believe her eyes when she next sees the kitchen table.Everything is beautifully prepared and laid out.
News reaches the King that Carolsfeld, insulted by the Prince’s “snub,” is mobilizing its armies.Fearing that Euphrania will have no allies left if the Prince does not consent to a marriage pact, the King beseeches him one last time to sacrifice his personal feelings.In anticipation, new portraits of the Prince are hastily painted and invitations to the Ball dispatched to castles far and near.The Court decides that the local Nobility will also be invited and this includes Cinderella’s step-mother and her two daughters.
Cinderella, alas, is not invited, but instead is ordered to make new ball gowns for the other three.She tries her best but the task is beyond her.Her dog runs to the mysterious woman, who is of course the Fairy Godmother.
She quickly solves Cinderella’s dilemma and the ungrateful family go off to the Ball in their new finery, leaving Cinderella behind.“You shall go to the Ball,” the Fairy Godmother reassures her and suddenly it happens . . . a single rose becomes the most beautiful gown of all, the top of the kitchen mop a magnificent wig, a pumpkin turns into a golden coach, a frog into a liveried coachman and four white mice into superb white horses.
“Won’t they recognize me?” asks Cinderella.“No-one will recognize you for what you are,” answers the Fairy Godmother wisely, but warns that because she is living on borrowed magic, at rather short notice, Cinderella must leave the Ball before the last stroke of midnight or everything she has transformed will change back.
At the height of the Ball, the uninvited Princess makes her breathtaking entrance.Prince Edward is entranced.Everyone watches them move slowly, dreamily towards each other and dance.
The Prince, beside himself with joy, escorts his new-found Princess to the terrace.But, just as the Lord Chamberlain comes to announce that the King and Queen wish to have an audience with her, the fateful tolling of bells is heard.It is already midnight.
Cinderella, suddenly remembering the Fairy Godmother’s warning, runs from the terrace; as she flees her beautiful ball gown gradually reverts to its drab former self.She vanishes into the darkness, leaving behind only one trace . . . a tiny glass slipper.
The Prince vows he will never rest until he has found its owner again.Cinderella’s step-mother is equally certain that, but for the mysterious Princess, Isobella and Palatine might have been Edward’s choice at the Ball.A frantic search begins – whoever tries on the slipper and finds it a perfect fit is the wife for the Prince.But no-one can be found.The shoe is placed on display in the castle courtyard, a reminder of the Prince’s lost love.The case grows dustier as the cause grows more hopeless and in a fit of despair the Prince smashes the case and flings the slipper from the castle battlements.
Later, John sees a dog carrying the slipper in its mouth.Before he can act the dog has delivered the prize to Cinderella, who slips it on.At once the matching slipper appears on the other foot.John returns to the castle to inform the Prince who rushes to the scene on his white charger and carries Cinderella to the castle to present her to the Royal family.
Nothing more, it seems can stand in the way of a happy ending.But one thing has been overlooked in the excitement – the King’s decree.The wily Lord Chamberlain in a private audience with Cinderella manages to convince her that it is imperative, for the future of her country, that the Prince marries a princess of royal blood.A sacrifice has to be made.A proper dowry will be provided and she will be escorted to a secret place of exile.“Tell the Prince anything,” she declares, “but not that I love him,” she lies, in an effort to conceal her grief.
All hopes of happiness now gone and enraged by this latest subterfuge, the Prince tells his father that in the name of patriotism – the Court is free to select a bride for him.But, he adds:“Your royal house will live with you but die with me.”
After all, he philosophizes later, only in fairy tales does a prince marry the lady of his choice . . .
And so the royal marriage proceeds in all its gorgeous splendor in the Cathedral.The bride, heavily veiled, makes her way to the Altar.
All this time, however, the Fairy Godmother has not been idle.Discovering Cinderella’s hiding place, she works her final magic and transports Cinderella to the Cathedral just in time.The wedding ceremony is halted.Faced with affair accompli the King realizes that it is just as much in his power to un-write a decree as it is to write it.
Honor is satisfied by Montague accepting the rival bride as his wife and Prince Edward is free to marry Cinderella at last.Just like a fairy story!
There is no question that the Cinderella tale counts among the world’s best-loved and most-often-told fairy stories, an enchanting bit of imagination handed from generation to generation and a continuing delight to people of all ages everywhere.
“The Slipper and The Rose,” made on a 22-week schedule, went before the Panavision cameras at Schloss Anif, near Salzburg, Austria in June 1975 and continued to film in the Salzkammergut area for three weeks before making the move to Pinewood Studios, London, where some of the most extensive – and expensive – interiors in many years were constructed for the picture.
Schloss Anif, a little jewel of a castle built in the middle of a still lake which mirror the snow-capped mountains in the background, serves in the film as the home of Cinderella, her step-mother and the step-sisters (who aren’t ugly, but rather vain, spoiled and grasping).Owned by Count Moy, who resides at Schloss Anif, the picturesque castle was actually built by Aloys Graf von Arko Stepperg in 1838.However, parts of it – such as the old clock dating back to 1638 – are much older.A wooden bridge, guarded by two stone-carved knights, connects the building with the lake shore and with the acres of green woodland which the count also made available to the film crew.
A realistic-looking cemetery was built by the unit on a grassy knoll for a scene where Cinderella hides from the Prince who, with his companion John, passes on horseback.The old crosses looked so ancient and weather-beaten visitors inevitably presumed the cemetery belonged to the Moy family.
The interior of the Mausoleum was constructed at Pinewood and it was here that the Prince sings “What a Comforting Thing” as he wanders past the tombs of his royal ancestors.
Many months earlier, director Forbes and producer Lyons had come to Anif to film the same setting in deep snow for the opening sequences of the picture.
The second major Salzburg location was at the fortress of Werfen, a grim and imposing-looking castle sitting 1,000 feet above the road and providing all sorts of transportation and communication problems for the crew.Built in 1077, and never captured, Werfen could only be reached on a steep incline which defied the gears of ordinary cars.Special heavy-duty trucks had to be used to transport people and equipment to the top.
Werfen for centuries was the seat of the Archbishop Regent and in fact was constructed at the same time as the famous castle in Salzburg itself.Used as a training ground for the Austrian gendarmerie today, it was a showplace until 1931 when most of it burned, with only the imposing clock tower being saved from the flames.It was a training school for party cadres from 1938 to 1945 and in the final days of the war provided headquarters for a German division.The Americans occupied Werfen for 13 weeks before turning it back to the Austrians.
Werfen, with its steep stairways, massive archways, dank dungeons and huge, thick-walled rooms, serves in “The Slipper and the Rose” as the King’s palace. While its exterior is forbidding, it makes an ideal contrast to the lush and colorful sets such as the exquisite throne room, the lavish ballroom and the elegant library built at Pinewood.
Salzburg itself, once the backdrop for another great musical, “The Sound of Music,” was used for the scene of the step-mother and her daughters coming to town to purchase gowns for the Prince’s great ball.On a quiet Sunday morning, the Alte Market was cleverly altered, costumed extras peopled the square and carriages paraded into view.Norman Bird played the owner of the dress shop, and the scene was watched with fascination by hundreds of tourists, some of them gaining a vantage point from the terrace of the Café Tomaselli, dating back to 1704 and the first coffee house in Salzburg.
“The Slipper and The Rose” was the first film musical to use Salzburg since Julie Andrews came in 1963, and the weather problems hadn’t changed.It rained more than the time of the year warranted, which forced the unit to change plans and seek weather cover (mostly at Werfen).
While Cinderella’s famous golden coach didn’t make its appearance until London, other carriages loomed large on the locations.One such vehicle was purchased by producer Lyons in a dilapidated state and beautifully restored at Werfen.It had to be taken up the steep incline on a special flatcar.The owners, concerned about the safety of their vehicle, demanded that a custodian remain with the coach all night to make sure that it wasn’t damaged.
Cinderella’s coach was built from scratch at Pinewood.The art department bought four wheels and the axles and constructed their own chassis of steel, which was then covered with timber.The coachwork and harness were also built by hand in a style befitting the period.The decorative features were then added before it was painted in gold and sprinkled with glitter dust.
Some 300 costumes, the most elaborate range in her professional experiences, were created by famous British dress designer, Julie Harris, for “The Slipper and The Rose”.“I eventually ran out of colors,” she admits.For her, the most demanding sequence in the picture was the huge ballroom scene at Pinewood in which stars and dancers showed at their most opulent.
Not only were the costumes of the royal family of eye-catching beauty – Lally Bowers, as the Queen, also wore a genuine £15,000 tiara – but equal attention was given to the guests and dancers.The same degree of perfection was also given to the seven visiting princesses who vied for the Prince’s hand in marriage.The actresses selected by Forbes and Lyons to play the princesses were ex-Miss World Eva Reuber-Staier, Patricia Neal’s daughter Tessa Hahl, and international models Marianne Broome, Lea Dregorn, Suzette St. Claire, Anne Rutherford and Vivienne McKee.
But pride of place was taken by Gemma Craven who looked absolutely stunning in a gown and hair-do that left everybody breathless – not to mention the glass slippers.It was as though Miss Harris had waved a magic wand, not the Fairy Godmother.The gown was made from over ten yards of pink silk with three dozen roses.
The Cinderella story first appears in writing in a Chinese book about 850 AD and, centuries later, the resemblances of the tale to that first telling is remarkable.The Cinderella fairy-tale as we know it today is based on the retelling of the old story by Charles Perrault who published it, in French, in his Histoires ou Contes du temps passé in 1697.
This first record of Cinderella in Europe appears in Italy, in 1634, and in it Cinderella plots with her governess to murder her stepmother.In fact, she manages this by letting the lid of a great chest fall on her neck while she is looking for some old dresses.Then she persuades her father to marry her governess, unaware that the woman has six daughters of her own who are then placed above her.
Many Cinderella versions have appeared in Europe including, of course, that of the Grimm brothers which was translated into English in 1826.The Perrault tale was published in English in London for the first time in 1729 under the title Histories of Tales of Past Times.
Fantasy and realism are happily mixed in “The Slipper and The Rose.”For the transformation of the mice into white horses to pull Cinderella’s coach, and the frog into a liveried coachman, director Forbes utilized the technique he employed in ‘The Tales of Beatrix Potter.’Ballet dancers – some of them from the Royal Ballet – wearing the appropriate masks and costumes and scaled against the buildings, give the appearance of being smaller than reality.They dance towards the pumpkin which looms large in the foreground.As they draw near it, the Pumpkin is transformed into a golden coach.
At London’s Southwark Cathedral, where Cinderella married her Prince in solemn splendor, it was the first time that the ancient church had loaned itself as the setting for a film.The picture company made the most of its opportunity, filling the vast nave with some 300 brilliantly costumed extras in glittering finery.Gemma wore a white satin dress and a pair of magnificent slippers made of silver and studded with rhinestones.In keeping with the opulence of the film, Lally Bowers (Queen) wore a genuine pearl necklace with a diamond drop to the value of £20,000.
Prior to the Southwark sequences, which went on for a week, Forbes filmed the elaborate “Protocoligorically Correct” music-and-dance sequence on the library set at Pinewood.It was during that scene that Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and her children visited the set at the invitation of Forbes.Cast and crew were presented to them.
Another energetic musical number, entitled “Position and Positioning,” was later performed on the Kitchen set by dancers playing the roles of the ‘below-stairs’ staff.Extremely modern in its execution, it contrasted well with the classical minuet, polka, polonaise and waltz of the great ball.
Trying to describe the many remarkable sets in words would not do them justice – they really have to be seen to appreciate their sumptuous quality.Production designer Ray Simm believes they are the most remarkable he has ever created.“Basically,” he says, “designing for any film is a similar process but part of the enjoyment of working on ‘the Slipper and the Rose’ is the fact that it is a fairy story with a fictitious setting, as opposed to reality.This gave me a free hand to use my imagination within, of course, the realms of credibility.
“The ballroom set was about 80 feet long by 55 feet wide.The throne room was 60 feet by 35 feet.The vast hall was 60 by 35, which then became the library at 10 feet wider, and then changed again to the dining room and below stairs kitchen.The marble columns and plaster arches in the kitchen set were styled on the kitchen of an existing historic Bavarian castle, and the ballroom floor was based on a palace near Vienna which was Napoleon’s headquarters in 1805.There were elements in most of the sets which were based on a palace in Salzburg, a castle in Bavaria and several other mid-European structures.Over 10,000 candles of different sizes, were employed as period illumination.
“The Slipper and The Rose” is set in a period between 1770 and the turn of the nineteenth century.Not because this was the period that Cinderella had most been set, but because of the decorative qualities of the architecture.It was the Baroque period; classical architecture that had taken flights of fancy.It had become free of the tight rigidity of the classical – something like a fairy tale.And this is just what the producers wanted.”
He Dances, He Rides, He Sings
“Come on up” invited the friendly baritone voice of Richard Chamberlain. I tried the handle, but the street door of his rented apartment near London’s Marble Arch was securely locked.
“I’ll be right down,” he apologized. I waited a few minutes while the athletically, tall, handsome American actor formerly known to millions as Dr. Kildare, came down three floors and personally ushered me into the hallway. As we travelled together up in the elevator, I remarked to Richard that it was a far cry from Kildare, now long dead and buried on the TV screen, to Prince Edward of Euphrania. This is the singing-acting starring role he is now playing at Pinewood Studios in a two-and-a-half million pound British film musical, The Story Of Cinderella.
“I thrive on change,” he admitted later as he sat facing me on a settee in his spacious living-room. “I was first attracted to Cinderella because it’s a musical. Singing is something I’ve wanted to do well for years. I’ve worked at it, taking voice lessons, but I’m only just beginning to get into it now. I’ve sung in college and summer stock in the States in West Side Story and The Fantasticks, as well as a Broadway preview of a musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Mary Tyler More. I also cut an album called ‘Richard Chamberlain sings’ when I was doing Dr. Kildare, because someone had heard I was taking singing lessons and wanted to cash in on the publicity.
“For The Story of Cinderella, I brought over my singing teacher, Carlos Noble,” Richard continued. “He’s gone back to the States now, but he’s left me with the tapes and singing exercises I must practice every day. I’ve never sung in a film before. That’s what appealed to me so much about Cinderella - that and a three-week location trip to Austria as an extra bonus. I think the time is right for a big romantic love story like Cinderella, which all the family can see.
“In this film I dance, I ride and I get to sing six new songs by the Sherman Brothers who wrote the Mary Poppins music,” he enthused. “The director, Bryan Forbes, has set the story in the 1740s period. I wear wigs and have about ten changes of costume all designed by Academy Award-winner Julie Harris. We spent a month on rehearsals at Pinewood and pre-recording the songs. I enjoy rehearsing, which is catching the mood with the other actors, but then you start to get anxious. There comes a time when you want the cameras to roll so you can do it all for real.”
For our meeting, Richard was dressed casually in blue denim and plimsolls. At 36, he is still every girl’s idea of a Prince Charming with masses of dark brown hair, penetrating blue eyes, boyish face and friendly grin. His relaxed manner completes the picture. He was born and educated in Los Angeles, so at times he appears almost blasé about the Hollywood scene.
“The real world didn’t appeal to me at all,” he admits. “That’s why I took up acting. But since then my motivations have deepened and I now enjoy the world around and life much better. I was an art major in college. I enjoyed painting, and I was going to be an artist. Then I was in a play, Arms And The Man, during my senior year. I got good notices and everyone was very nice to me. I liked doing it, so I chucked art and took up acting.
In America you have to hunt and peck for your acting training,” he continued. “I was in plays in college, and later, I found a marvelous drama coach, Jeff Corey, in Hollywood. Finally, I began to get some jobs in television and then Dr. Kildare came along and that was the most solid kind of training I had. It was five years of constant work but, needless to say, playing the same role for five years is not exactly the way to progress as an actor.”
After college, Richard was drafted into the US Army, winning his sergeant’s stripes in Korea where he remembers he ”nearly died of boredom.”
“In many ways I’m grateful for Dr. Kildare”, he smiled. “It gave me image I hadn’t had before, although as an actor I’m not really interested in having a permanent image. It was incredible to be suddenly so much in demand. This kind of adulation from the girls had never happened to me before. But Kildare was, after all, a tremendous ‘break’ for a young actor starting out on his career. After a few years I felt I had to prove I could do other things, to break out of the mould that had been created for me.
“I’ve been to London a dozen of times, and I love it here. When I first came over, I had a strange feeling that Britain was the place to be. I like your English repertory system. It’s something we don’t have in the States, apart from summer stock. I also enjoy switching from doing ‘live’ theatre to films. One helps to enrich the other.”
Many of Richard’s recent films have been costume roles - like Lord Byron in Lady Caroline Lamb, Aramis in The Three Musketeers and its sequel The Four Musketeers, and Edmond Dantes in the Count of Monte Cristo which will be shown soon. Now The Story of Cinderella will see him in costume again.
“Musketeers was a real swashbuckler,” he grins. “I ride but not all that well. On location in Spain there was always the chance of the horses slipping on the courtyards. And the stuntmen we had in the fight scenes were all hackers - they just hacked at the actors and everything in sight with their swords. Fencing is always dangerous, although every movement is carefully choreographed in advance. It’s more like learning to dance than fighting. You have to learn the moves.
“But I had more fun on Musketeers than anything I’ve done for a long time. It was partly because Richard Lester is one of my favourite directors. I did Petulia in San Francisco with Dick a few years ago. Some of his films, like How I Won The War were brilliant, but the timing was wrong. His films were ahead of their time. I think they would be a big success if they were released today.”
I asked Richard if he found it difficult to adapt to modern roles after making so many historical movies. “After so much costume work, I got more of a lift out of wearing modern clothes in Towering Inferno, he replied. “That was a huge film to make in every sense. I played a vain, rotten guy and pulled out all the stops. I was involved in it for fourteen weeks. For the escape scene by breeches buoy from the blazing Promenade Room we worked against a painted background on the largest sound stage in the studio. The exteriors were on the Fox ranch at Malibu where they built a twenty storey building on the back lot. They gave me a huge dressing room all to myself at the studio. It was a taste of what working in Hollywood must have been like in the old days.”
Richard loves to travel, and his film locations have taken him to many exciting places. He has been to Spain (Julius Caesar), Nice (The Madwoman of Chaillot), Madrid (The Three Musketeers), Rome and Portovenere (The Count of Monte Cristo). He recently made his first visit to Austria for The Story of Cinderella.
“Just before starting the film I spent ten days on vacation in Mexico, in Yucatán, seeing the Aztec ruins before they put high-rise buildings all around them,” he said. “For Cinderella we were filming in two authentic Austrian castles at Anif and Werfen. They looked like something straight out of a fairy tale, dating back hundreds of years. We also spent a day shooting in the centre of Salzburg where we had coaches and horses, and the art department turned back the clock and dressed up the local shops in eighteenth-century style.”
Still a bachelor, Richard Chamberlain has always taken his work very seriously although it is only comparatively recently that he has been given the chance of proving himself as a classical actor as opposed to being a personality. He rides and plays tennis frequently to keep himself in shape for his more strenuous movie roles.
With the Birmingham Repertory Company, he was the first American actor to play Hamlet on a British stage since John Barrymore in 1929. He regards this ’break’ as the turning point in his career.
Richard Chamberlain is basically a stage actor who also happens to enjoy making movies. He is very excited that he is to direct his first stage play at an American college early next year, although the subject has still to be decided. But he doesn’t feel he is ready to direct a film, explaining: “Perhaps one day, but not yet. I want to try the theatre first.”
Meanwhile Richard is spending seventeen weeks playing the dashing Prince to 22 year-old newcomer Gemma Craven’s Cinderella at Pinewood Studios. Those qualified to judge have been pleasantly surprised by the fine quality of his singing voice.
Richard and Gemma make a handsome, romantic couple in The Story of Cinderella, They also sound wonderful together, too.
The Slipper and the Rose, the 1976 film that was set before the Queen, is a feat fit for all subjects.
The $31/2 million musical, full of romance, magic and wit, is based on the story of Cinderella, the fairy tale that never fades.
In Australia it will be launched at a gala charity premiere at Sydney’s Lyceum Theatre on June 24, to be attended by David Frost, the executive producer. Later it will go to the States.
Delightful newcomer Gemma Craven in the role of Cinderella and Richard Chamberlain as her handsome Prince are ideally cast as lovers who overcome every obstacle of wickedness and royal protocol.
Marriage has nothing to do with love, proclaims the court - headed by Michael Hordern as an amusingly eccentric King. Lally Bowers as his Queen, the show-stopping Dame Edith Evans as a quite ga-ga and querulous Queen Mum and Kenneth More as the Lord Chamberlain. Intent on finding for the royal heir a wife who is Protocoligorically Correct, they organize a bride-finding ball, inviting the titled wallflowers of Europe and some local flora besides. These include the not-so-Ugly-as-you-might-expect Sisters, escorted by the Wicked Stepmother, played by Margaret Lockwood.
The pumpkin turns into a coach, the mice into horses and Cinders into the lovely Princess Incognita, who duly turns back from riches to rags on the stroke of midnight.
Matchmakers and conspirators alike reckon without the heart-strong Prince and the Fairy Godmother - Annette Crosbie gives a doubly spellbinding performance as this no-nonsense problem-solver who’s also trying to cope with the shenanigans of Snow White and Pandora.
Usually this upstairs, downstairs tale ends with the Prince’s search and the fitting of the slipper and the chiming of churchbells. But British director Bryan Forbes had added a twist and it would spoil the fun (and what fun!) to give away the finale.
Once upon a time there were such things as fairy tales. Nothing, you will understand, to do with Gay Lib, but gentle, sometimes malicious, folksy stories that were about such mythical things as wishes three and dwarfs seven. Horses flew, although witches had to be transported by broomsticks. Magic was a reality, and reality couldn’t be trusted anyway.
Now, there have always been fairies of that kind at the bottom of the cinematic garden. There are times, emerging from a whole day of Press shows, when I feel as though I had just awakened from a long dream-filled sleep - only it has been other people doing the dreaming for me.
But deliberate magical fantasies seem to have been banished from our ken, ever since “X” marked the spot where family audiences bit the dust, blown up by the swirling skirts of the permissive society. So it is with some trepidation that I suggest that The Slipper and the Rose, The Story of Cinderella (CIC) is a story worth your consideration, despite its occasional tendency to gush and several longueurs in the narrative.
It is British director Bryan Forbes’ first film in Britain for six years and - because he has also written this musical with the brothers Sherman - there is a considerable amount of wit underlining an opulence that looks every penny of the 2½ million pounds it cost to produce.
It was filmed in Britain and Austria, and the latter country’s baroque style of architecture admirably complements the superb eccentrics who encircle the Prince (Richard Chamberlain) and Cinderella (newcomer Gemma Craven)
in their search for True Love Among The Ruins (of class distinction).
There is a senile dowager queen, played by Dame Edith Evans as though she had one of those famous Wildean handbags in her mouth. There is Michael Hordern as the King, ditheringly throwing an enormous dice. There is Kenneth More, plumply smug as a courtly big-wig, but bending the knee of characterization to frail humanity when he has to tell Cinders that, despite all that trouble at the ball, protocol will not allow her to marry the Prince after all. There is, most delightfully, Annette Crosbie as a fluttery lady always getting her spells wrong and pronouncing: “I don’t know how I got into this fairy-godmother game.” It is a film that is more Perrault than panto.
Some of the jokes are so in as to be out. There is a gag about Mecca dancing just before a number called “Bride-Finding Ball,” and an undecided Prince is discovered. Hamlet-like, in a mausoleum confessing that he has enjoyed going there ever since he was “knee-high to a tomb-stone.” There is even one hummable melody to take away with you: “Protocoligorically”.
The Changing Image of Charming Chamberlain
Cinderella’s new Prince Charming is Richard Chamberlain! He is a charming, good-looking, soft spoken.
An astrologer once predicted he would marry around the age of 38 or 39, Chamberlain has yet to meet his own Cinderella.
Right now the main love of his life is acting and thanks to a series of costume and classical roles here in England he’s been able to bury his Kildare TV image.
“I came here because I wanted to get a basic training as an actor. Dr. Kildare was a sort of basic training in film techniques, but I wanted to try my hand at the classics because I’d always been attracted to this British approach. I admire British actors tremendously.
“When I arrived I was immediately told they were looking for someone to play Ralph Touchet in the TV series of Henry James’ Portrait Of A Lady. I got the part through luck. That was a big event in my life, as big an event as Kildare was. A whole lot of things stemmed from that.”
There was the romantic Frenchman opposite Katharine Hepburn in The Madwoman of Chaillot (directed by Bryan Forbes, now directing Chamberlain in The Story of Cinderella). Following Chaillot he became the first American actor to play Hamlet here since Barrymore braved it forty years ago. “The director Peter Dewes taught me a tremendous amount - he’s the best kind of teacher,” he said. Chamberlain’s ‘Hamlet’ was very successful. A whole new world opened up to him - Ken Russell signed him as his Tchaikovsky in The Music Lovers after seeing him in the Portrait Of A Lady series. Russell said he was good to work with, very gentle and sweet, that there was a quiet dignity about him which he felt the character needed.
“It was exciting, but a difficult thing to do,” said Chamberlain. “I was at death’s door at the end of that movie. I have never felt so drained.”
He went on to portray Lord Byron in Lady Caroline Lamb; Aramis in the two Musketeers films for Richard Lester; Edmund Dantes in a new version of The Count of Monte Cristo which he filmed in Italy. All of them costume roles, so I asked him if he thought he had the kind of face that goes well in period films.
“My face?” he asked. “I think I have a face which can be pushed - in almost any direction. It’s fairly regular but not regular enough to be totally boring.”
He likes playing costume roles but has a hankering to move towards more contemporary roles. It made a change to see him wearing modern day gear in the Hollywood ‘disaster’ movie, The Towering Inferno playing the parasitic son-in-law of William Holden, a film he enjoyed doing, though he had some reservations about it. “I think ‘disaster’ movies should be jokey - Earthquake was perfect. But the minute you start offering real burning bodies as entertainment, you are moving toward immoral territory.
“When I first saw the advertisements for Jaws with the woman being eaten by the shark, in no way was I going to see that movie. But I know I will in the end. It’s plugged into dream fears . . . it must be the ultimate vulnerability to be naked in the water in the dark with this ferocious beast lurking nearby.”
Back to his current movie, The Story of Cinderella, a big budget musical with magnificent sets. The unit had not long returned from location work in Austria.
“Oh, we had a terrific time there,” he grinned. “It rained for three weeks! You can only spend so much time all together in a room in make-up and costume before everything starts to reduce to a childish level and we started playing children’s games. This picture is an amusing kind of game. It’s fun. There’s not a whole lot of weight to it, but I think one is entitled to a bit of fun from time to time.” One is!
“Bryan (Forbes the director) seems to be under the delusion that I can sing as well as act,” Richard smiled. “They didn’t want to dub any of the voices, they wanted people to sing for themselves. It’s hard to find people who can do that and act. I have a couple of songs of my own, and I do two with Gemma Craven, our Cinderella, who is marvelous.”
Over the years Chamberlain has become one of the most versatile actors on the scene. He’s proved himself in some of the most difficult roles an actor can play.
“I suppose I started taking myself seriously as an actor when people started taking me seriously as an actor after they saw me in the Portrait Of A Lady series. I think I’m a better actor now than I was a couple of years ago. It’s like plants growing - very gradual! I think I’ve changed a lot as a person too. I’m much freer with people - but I’ve still a long way to go.”
At Christmas he’ll be acting in Tennessee Williams’ “The Night Of The Iguana” on stage in Los Angeles which follows up on his highly successful run in “Cyrano De Bergerac” there, and there are other offers being considered.
It looks though as if it might be a long, long time before he gets a real chance to live out his alter-ego. “I’d like to become a hippie artist living in a little shack painting stained glass windows for beautiful churches. Maybe I’d do some painting and mobiles too - and dabble in a bit of sculpture.”
There is no question that Cinderella counts among the world’s best-loved and most-often told fairy stories, an enchanting bit of imagination handed from generation to generation and a continuing delight to people of all ages everywhere.
Now, Paradine Co-Productions Ltd, a new company, has chose to film “The Slipper and the Rose” as a romantic love story and to embellish it with a memorable musical score provided by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman, the brothers who for years wrote the music for the Sidney pictures and were responsible for such hits as Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.
An outstanding cast has been assembled for the film, which was being made on a $5,000,000 budget under the direction of Bryan Forbes, with Stuart Lyons producing. Richard Chamberlain is the handsome Prince and the lovely and talented Gemma Craven, a newcomer to the screen, plays Cinderella.
The listing of “The Slipper and the Rose” stars reads like a Who’s Who of the greats in the British cinema - Annette Crosbie portrays the Fairy Godmother; Dame Edith Evans the Dowager Queen; Christopher Gable the Prince’s friend and companion, John; Michael Hordern the King; Margaret Lockwood the Stepmother and Kenneth More the pompous Lord High Chamberlain. Rosalind Ayres and Sherrie Hewson play the two step-sisters, Julian Orchard is Montague and Lally Bowers the Queen.
The Cinderella story first appears in writing in a Chinese book about 850 AD and, centuries later, the resemblances of the tale to that first telling is remarkable. The Cinderella fairy-tale as we know it today is based on the retelling of the old story by Charles Perrault who published it, in French, in his Histoires ou Contes du temps passé in 1697.
The first record of Cinderella in Europe appears in Italy, in 1634, and in it Cinderella plots with her governess to murder her stepmother. In fact, she manages this by letting the lid of a great chest fall on her neck while she is looking for some old dresses. Then she persuades her father to marry her governess, unaware that the woman has six daughters of her own who are then placed above her. “The Slipper and the Rose” tells a happier tale, however.
International audiences will discover - and love - Irish born Gemma Craven in her first film role, as Cinderella, and they will undoubtedly thrill to her marvelous voice, her dancing talent and her great charm. They will also be surprised by the quality of Richard Chamberlain’s baritone. While it was known that he could sing (he recorded a number of record albums several years ago), no one expected his voice to be as full or rich as it now is. When he and Gemma pre-recorded their songs in London prior to production (with a full 90-piece orchestra) there were congratulations all around. It has since become evident that Richard and Gemma make a great romantic couple on the screen, the maturity of the experienced actor blending perfectly with the innocence of the young newcomer.
As a matter of interest, every member of the cast sings with their own voices. Not one voice had to be dubbed by a professional singer. And this includes Dame Edith Evans (87) who not only sings in the film but dances too. She performs the Minuet at the ball with Christopher Gable - who was himself the principal dancer with the Royal Ballet before he turned to acting.
The production origins of “The Slipper and the Rose” are with David Frost and the Shermans. All three worked together on the overall concept and then with the score only partially completed, but clearly of vintage Sherman quality, Frost brought the project to Naim Attallah, an astute financier with a banking background. Attallah became equally enthusiastic and, with Frost, John Asprey and Richard Armitage, formed Paradine Co-Productions to make the picture on a major budget. Stuart Lyons was then assigned as the producer and Frost became Executive Producer.
Stuart Lyons brings vast experience to the formidable task of producing “Slipper and the Rose” on the screen. Tony Imi, who did “The Raging Moon” with Forbes, is the director of photography. Ray Simm is the production designer. He, too, worked on a number of the great Forbes pictures, including “Séance on a Wet Afternoon”, “Whistle Down the Wind”, “The Wrong Box”, “The L-Shaped Room”, “The Whisperers”, and “The Mad-woman of Chaillot”. He received the BFA award for “Darling”. Musical Director is Angela Morley, recently nominated for a Hollywood Academy Award for her work on “The Little Prince”.
“The Slipper and the Rose” is a real story about two young people in love. Enhanced by wonderful tunes, it is a story very much aimed at the vast international family audiences, retaining at the same time the enchantment it has always held.
How to Live Happily Ever After
“When I was a very small boy, my grandmother, who had a great enthusiasm for life, used to wake me up very early to see the sunrise. I still enjoy that – the feeling of wonder,” says Richard Chamberlain, easing comfortably into his chair between takes on The Story of Cinderella at Pinewood Studios.
Chamberlain is a man of enthusiasms: acting, singing, travelling, sculpting, staining glass windows, music. How much of his basic joie de vivre stemmed from his grandmother’s influence is obviously impossible to assess. It certainly didn’t emerge during his education, for his schooling lacked the imagination to inspire, an aspect Richard reckons of paramount importance. “If ever I have children I’ll be very careful about where I send them to school. My education was disastrous and I don’t have too much affinity with language, which is why I admire people who can write. Oh, I can speak other people’s words and I read, of course, but fairly slowly. At school I wasn’t courageous enough to say, ‘I won’t.’ I always said, ‘I can’t.’ Inspired teaching is so important and I didn’t ever have that. By the time I got to college I had begun to get turned on by education, but by then it was too late.”
Despite all that, most people would surely agree that Richard Chamberlain managed pretty well. One way and another he’s covered the limitations and become not only one of the better actors around, but one of the most amiable and interesting as well.
A few years ago he would probably have baulked at playing the Prince Charming character, Prince Edward, in The Story of Cinderella. Fairy-tale princes are uncomfortably close to “Dr. Kildare,” the television character which made him a star and typed him for years as a clean-cut, short-back-and-sides, all-American brand of wholesomeness. Like so many actors before him, Chamberlain rebelled against the image, fought strenuously to escape the claustrophobic prison that Kildare came to represent.
His efforts were fairly drastic: a move to England, a steady diet of the classics, some notable performances. It obviously worked because, he says, with a bemused grin, Americans were beginning to think of him as British.
“The English allow actors much more freedom than the Americans. That’s why I came here in the first place. However I am an American and I was getting homesick so when the Americans began thinking I was a classical British actor I thought the time had come to go back. There’s so much going on in Los Angeles,” the enthusiasm bubbles back. He is philosophical about being pigeon-holed, regarding it as a sad fact of acting life: “The industry has very little imagination,” he says. “It’s difficult to escape the slot they put you in. Anyway, it’s a kind of insurance for producers to repeat a successful formula.”
Latterly he has been breaking free of the formula with devastating determination: he was a dashing Lord Byron in Robert Bolt’s undervalued Lady Caroline Lamb, played Edward VIII in the American television play with Faye Dunaway, “The Woman I Love,” moved on to corner the swashbuckling market in Richard Lester’s memorable The Three Musketeers and its sequel The Four Musketeers as the dandified Aramis. He also starred in The Towering Inferno.
“That was good to do and it was so nice to be the villain. Also it was a marvelous experience to work with such a collection of interesting people. Of course it’s impossible to give a performance in the big disaster films because it’s the action that is so fascinating. I remember we were stuck on one set for weeks – the penthouse set – and we used to get terribly excited if we knew we were coming up for an action scene!”
We have still to see his latest swashbuckling film, a remake of The Count of Monte Cristo with Tony Curtis. Chamberlain says it was not the happiest experience making the film,
“for a number of reasons.” Sandwiched between his film roles have been a highly successful series of plays – “Richard II” “Cyrano de Bergerac” and next year he will do the Tennessee Williams classic, “The Night of the Iguana.” “I’m dying to do that. When I first read it I didn’t think it was that good, but now I see it as all those layers of desolation, such sad people.”
The value of mixing up the roles is something he recognizes. “I get tired of playing straight leading man roles. I don’t want to be a superstar because it means continually doing leading man roles and they require so little of an actor. I’d love to do character parts, I want to experiment and do all kinds of different things.”
Next year he will direct his first play, an experience he is anticipating with some excitement. “I don’t know what it will be yet but we’ll do it at a mid-western university. I’m really looking forward to it; I think it will do me a great deal of good to have a wider view and get more perspective. I think one day I might enjoy teaching acting. Oh, I don’t know,” he adds, “I probably don’t know enough to teach.”
Directing films is less appealing. “I’m not a practical person. I hate organizing and find it very difficult to make decisions so I don’t think I would ever be able to direct a film. I’d love directing actors but I wouldn’t enjoy all the preparation, the months that go into it. I bore very easily and I’m aware of there not being enough time to do all the things I want to do. Life is very seductive, it’s easy to wander off.”
The Story of Cinderella is something of a first for Richard: his first film musical. Years ago, while he was doing “Dr. Kildare” he recorded an album which sold gigantically, eager teenagers stumbling on the undeniable fact, “He can sing, too!”
“I don’t think I was really ready for singing then, although I took a lot of lessons,” he says. “Now I take lessons twice a week and practice every day. I am also learning French – I’m determined to speak it properly before I die.”
The songs he sings in The Story of Cinderella are the creations of Richard and Robert Sherman who wrote Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The film is proving a very happy experience for Richard: he is warmly complimentary about Bryan Forbes, with whom he worked on The Madwoman of Chaillot, and about his young co-star, Gemma Craven, who plays Cinderella. “She is enchanting,” he says. There are other bonuses: people like Dame Edith Evans, Michael Hordern, Kenneth More, Margaret Lockwood. The role of Prince Edward is difficult, says Richard, because it falls in the category of straight leading man and it’s up to the actor to add the depth and shading to make such characters interesting.
“Straight roles are much more difficult because not very much is expected of you. Of course, there’s a minimum requirement beneath which you cannot go, but it’s difficult in films to give a great performance – it can be done, but there’s some magic involved – because films are quite mechanical and everything is quite difficult for the actor. Take a musical: the songs are pre-recorded before you’ve actually done the scenes, so you have to guess that you’ve done them with the right inflection. But, of course, it’s the only way to do it. If you record live you run into all kinds of additional problems.”