Not everyone in Hollywood is a star or a director and director Daniel Raim gives us a heartwarming peek into the marriage of two people who worked behind the scenes: Storyboard artist Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson in “Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story.”
The movie opens with a shot of a scrapbook with the title “Time Rhymes” and an old photo of a couple, this couple. When the album opens, we see a vintage movie clip. Harold and Lillian Michelson were not a power couple, “They were the heart of Hollywood,” according to critic Bill Krohn, who adds, “They were the best of those days.”
Producer Stuart Cornfeld calls them “the secret weapons” for producers and directors. Their combined filmography includes classics like “Ben-hur,” “The Apartment,” “The Graduate,” “Spartacus,” “High Anxiety,” “Raging Bull,” “Rocky,” “Star Trek: The Movie,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Yet those contributions were mostly uncredited.
We see the couple in old vintage clips, but also as cartoon figures, in storyboards of their own lives.
Danny DeVito and Mel Brooks talk about working with the couple. Brooks notes the idea of balls on the heads for “Spaceballs” came from Harold. Hitchcock asked to work with Harold.
The couple also worked with Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick and others in a time before computers and the internet. Lillian is still alive and she talks about everything from their unorthodox romance to how she convinced her husband to work on a certain science fiction movie. But Lillian also notes other less savory parts of the Hollywood scene where she was with her husband with his co-workers. All the other pretty young girls were hookers.
Before you could search endlessly for facts and faux facts on the world wide web, you needed libraries. If they weren’t public ones, they were often private ones–files and files in dusty cabinet in the basement somewhere. What could not be found, could be phoned up. And Lillian was a talker who contacted everyone, befriending even drug lords for a few facts.
Storyboarding might be more familiar to viewers now. If you watched the extras for animation, you’ll often see some storyboards. If you’re up on Hitchcock, you’ll know that he meticulously storyboarded his films. Harold and Lillian worked on “The Birds.” Harold on the storyboards and Lillian on the habits of birds.
At the end Lillian recalls how she traveled on a train from the East Coast going to an unknown state, to marry a man she didn’t really know (She knew his sister). She spent sleepless nights asking herself, “Is this a reason to leave everything?” She barely recognized Harold when she arrived.
Lillian explains, “I never felt that I was worthy of all this love” because she was an orphan. Harold and Lillian turned out to be a real Hollywood story although Harold is now gone and suffered at the hands of “charlatans” who claimed they could help during a long illness. Harold died in 2007.
“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” is a celebration of a long marriage between two Hollywood heroes and opened on May 12 at the Laemmle Monica Film Center, the Pasadena Playhouse 7 and the Town Center 5.