In the Company of Legends

| May 14, 2015

It’s not every day that the people behind-the-camera get to share their stories. Usually fans interested in ‘the way things were’ during the glory days of Hollywood have to consult memoirs and ‘authorized’ biographies filled with too much nostalgia of remembrance and not enough memory of reality. While In the Company of Legends is full of fond memories, TV documentarians Joan Kramer and David Heeley detail that the past doesn’t need to be trite nor (too) scandalous to be compelling.

If you’re interested in working in television documentary, you should know Joan Kramer and David Heeley. I didn’t and now I am questioning my entire undergraduate education.The Kramer and Heeley team were able to meet (and film) every mega star from the 20th century. From 1980 to the early 2000’s, their camera captured the likes Sinatra, Bacall, Spielberg, Danny Glover, and Elizabeth Taylor. Plus many, many more. Not only did Kramer and Heeley work with the names on this mouth-watering list, they became friends with most of them — and have a copious amount of pictures to prove it.

In the Company of Legends is a structured much like a Kramer and Heeley production: two voices discuss different elements of the filming process and eventually coalesce into a unified production. Thus each chapter contains Kramer and Heeley’s separate story of meeting each ‘legend’. Despite differing accounts, however, there is little divergence in the tales. It’s almost as if Kramer and Heeley had worked together for over twenty years…While the oscillating dialogue occasionally causes readers to verify whom they are reading, it is not enough to deter further exploration into the star-studded tales.

What makes In the Company of Legends so enjoyable is the honesty of the authors. Kramer and Heeley are undoubtedly nice (albeit persistent) producers who manage to speak candidly about their subjects without grinding any axes. Notice this except on Mickey Rooney:

“While we sere setting up, [Rooney] began letting off steam, talking about how badly Hollywood and the old studio system had treated him. But when our camera rolled, he changed radically, becoming almost too sweet. It didn’t work, and we were able to use only very little of what he said. But what struck us most was the instant change of personality – a very different image for the public. “

– and Joseph Mankiewicz:

“[In] 1959, Mankiewicz directed Katherine Hepburn in Suddenly Last Summer, co-starring Montgomery Clift, who was recovering from a car accident. She thought Mankiewicz was unreasonably harsh in his treatment of Clift, not showing any consideration for the fact that he wasn’t well. After the last shot spat in Mankiewicz’s face…Not surprisingly, he asked me more than once whether Hepburn knew and approved of my calling him. When he arrived for the interview, he said, ‘I’m so happy that Kate wants me to be a part of this show.’ There were tears rolling down his cheeks.”

In the Company of Legends is a quick and easy personal history without the need for revision. If there has been any, it isn’t obvious. Film readers interested in Hollywood’s Golden era and beyond can now appreciate Kramer and Heeley’s awesome (and award winning) documentaries even more because their amazing and sometimes heart-aching tasks are now down on paper.


About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
Filed in: Books on Film

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