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An Exclusive Interview With Mickey Knox

By Cenk Kiral April 9, 1998

Cenk KIRAL and Mickey Knox

Cenk Kiral with Mickey Knox, in front of KNOX's house in Los Angeles.

The man responsible for the unforgettable dialogues of Sergio Leone's two greatest westerns, "THE GOOD THE BAD and THE UGLY" (GBU) and "ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST" (OUTIW), speaks for the first time in the exclusive interview about his experience with Sergio Leone.

Mickey Knox started his career as an actor in the late 40s. He made 16 pictures in 3 years. In 1951, during the McCarthy period, he was blacklisted and went to Europe to work in various European films. He lived in Italy for many years. According to the Internet Movie Database, he worked as an actor in various pictures, like "Knock on Any Door" (1949 - Nicholas Ray), "Saturday's Hero" (1951 - David Miller), "Bolero" (1984 - John Derek), "The Lonely Lady" (1983 - Peter Sasdy), "Godfather Part III" (1990 - Francis F. Coppola) , and various TV series like "Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride" (1991), "Perry Mason: The Case of the Desperate Deception" (1990), "The Winds of War" (1983). He returned to the US for living about three years ago. After he worked with Leone, he didn't leave the Spaghetti Western world, and even produced a film, called "Long Live Your Death" (1971 - D.Tessari). One of his latest works was in a co-production of HBO/Astoria Productions, called "Crime of the Century" (1996) as in the role of Judge Trenchard. Although Internet Movie Database doesn't credit, during our interviews he proudly mentioned that he has worked in the 1962 made, famous war drama film, called "The Longest Day". He still works on script adaptations, and some acting.

I always found the dialogues of Leone films as one of the most interesting parts of the films. Short but powerful. Especially some of the one-liners had become essential flavors of these films for the Spaghetti Western aficionados. Over the years, they turned into memorable lines, almost as famous as the movies themselves. The power of dialogue reached their climax at GBU and OUTIW, on which Mickey Knox worked on. His involvement with GBU began after the film had been shot, but he was deeply involved in almost all the stages of OUTIW. He was with the crew during the shooting of the film in Spain, Italy, and the Monument Valley. He was also the translator of Leone on the set. Over the course of many years, I have read several books and articles about these films, but so far I have never read anything specific about him. Then one day, I found out a telephone number and gave it a chance. Straight in my first try, I found him talking with me on the phone. We agreed on a future date for an interview. On January 18th and February 1st, 1998, I had two long interviews with him. Then, on March 21st, 1998, I went to see him at his modest house in Los Angeles. Afterwards, we made one more interview on April 9th, 1998 to wrap things up. So, the entire interview got quite long. Except for few matters, he was very open in answering my questions, telling everything he knew and remembered about those days. We are talking about almost 30 years of history, and he seemed to have a very sharp memory on some of the points. I can sense from the way he talked that it wasn't the best part of his life when he was working for Leone. Some of his memories are quite unpleasant, but that's the way he feels. Although his experience with Leone has given him the right credit to be the world's one of the best dialogue director, he had some rough time with him. But, after all those years, he now rates Leone as the best among the directors he worked, in terms of film making. He considers himself "basicly an actor", but the blacklist period added his career a whole new dimension. He recently gave a big interview for the book, called "Tender Comrades", mainly about his life in general, and the blacklist period. I read the book, and was really impressed by the depth of his experience. My interview here complements to that from Sergio Leone perspective. He said quite a bit that should interest Leone fans, real interesting anecdotes, and one or two things that should interest many cinema lovers. As one of his lines from OUTIW says, he certainly brought two too many horses, but this time there was only me.

So, here is Mickey Knox, with his own words, about Leone, Spaghetti Westerns, the blacklist period, and his career.

First of all, thank you very much for taking the time in helping me for this interview. You certainly are one of the important contributors of Leone's two greatest western films, and probably among the important witnesses to how those films were made...

As I said before, he was a rather shallow man. He was a previously brilliant technician. But, as a director he didn't have any ideas that he wanted to convey. For example, Martin Scorcese, Orson Welles and all these great directors had somethings that they wanted to convey, and their films show this. I don't think that Sergio Leone will be remembered like that, because he didn't have anything. All his films were fairy tales.

A lot of people in film magazines, or on internet say they find a quite lot of things in his films. He has many fans who truly enjoy his films

Of course, his films are enjoyable and full of actions.

Can you please explain the function of your job when you were working with Leone and how you met him?

Well, I think it was through Eli Wallach, who is an old friend of mine. His agent was also my agent, and he convinced Sergio to use me to direct the dubbing of GBU in New York, which means I had to adapt the whole movie into the proper English. I did all the dialogue. United Artists came to me and said "this is America, everything has to be in perfect synch". I mean the dialogue with the lips. That wasn't an easy job for that picture. Sergio didn't give a damn about the sound, because all of his films were dubbed after the pictures were finished anyway. Many times different actors doing the dialogue part. So this gave him the freedom to shoot a picture without worrying about the sound, meaning visually he can do anything he wanted. And, in fact he did.

How was the script writing process working? - Did the scripts already have the dialogue, or did you write them all?

How it worked was this way: he had a very poor translation from the Italian, and in most spots the American actors changed the dialogue when they were doing it. So in many cases I had to re-lipped if I could. German actors had to speak German, Spanish actors spoke Spanish, Chinese actors spoke Chinese. In the end, all had to be done in English. I knew what they were saying, because I had the Italian script. I knew the sense of what they were saying. But I had to find out the right dialogue not only in terms of move the story along, but also to fit the lips. It's not an easy thing to do. As a matter of fact, it took me six weeks to write, what they say, 'the lip-synch script'. Normally I would have done it in seven to ten days for a normal movie. But, that wasn't a normal movie (GBU).

So, when you started working with Leone, the Italian version of the scripts already had the dialogue, right? Let's take OUTIW for example, since your involvement is much more than GBU throughout the making of it. How exactly process worked in that film?

In that film, it already had all the dialogue in Italian. I had to adapt it to English, meaning that in many cases, especially in a Sergio Leone picture, where there are peculiar phrases, I had to find the equivalent, but not the same, in English. Because if you translate it directly from Italian, it makes no sense.

How about those ever-famous one-liners, like "there're two kinds of spurs..."? Were they your inventions?

In GBU, I tried to follow his intentions all the time. I didn't want to intrude my ideas of what the script should be. Most of them were his ideas. Sometimes, it was the actors' ideas. But, he was pretty good about that. He knew what he wanted and he did have a sense of humour. So, he did those type of one-liners in Italian which had to be translated to English. Some of them couldn't be. That's when I had to invent things that were American. A lot of the Italian quips, wits, and what you call as one-liners, weren't easy to translate, like in any language.

There is one quite famous of those "one-liners" in OUTIW, which goes like 'people like him have always something to do with death'. I am particularly curious about it. Was that line one of your adaptations, or was it already in the original Italian script as it is?

Well, I wrote it obviously, but it was probably the same in the original Italian, but I don't remember exactly. All the English dialogue is mine. I mean, in terms of adapting it from Italian, but I didn't originally write the Italian script. Somebody else did it, like Sergio Donati, but the English version is all mine.

But, I must say that you've done an excellent job. Many fans of Leone still remember those famous one-liners. There are even books about Leone referring to those famous one-liners. Prof.Christopher Frayling, who wrote one book on Spaghetti Westerns, and who is about to release a huge book on Leone's biography, is anxious to hear from you regarding to your efforts for Leone pictures.

Well, actually the only two films I've worked for Leone were GBU, and OUTIW.

Which were probably the two best pictures of him...

I think so too. Then, I broke with him because I wasn't a great fan of him. I mean, I was in the sense of a director. I told him personally years later that "you were great as a director, however, as a human being you were shit"

How was he like as a person?

Well, I've got to tell you that you could be dying in thirst, and lying in the gutter. He'll step over you and walk away. He had very little concern about others. He was a very tough guy. That's an aspect of him that I didn't like. To give you an example, we were staying in an Indian Motel at the Monument Valley during the shooting of OUTIW. During the evenings, the whole crew always left good tips for the Indian waiters, because that's what these people earn to live. Sergio never left any tips for them. When I told him about this, he said the money he paid for the food already included gratuity. I told him that it didn't leave them that much, and they expect this, and they need it.

Did he later begin to leave any?

No, never.

And, I guess this argument caused some real problems between you and Leone. You mentioned in your interview for the book, called "Tender Comrades", that this argument was the reason for ending your working relationship with Leone. Was it really that bad?

Well, it was a stupid argument. I wouldn't have done it that way today. It's all because of that stupid tip and Leone's stinginess.

And, did it really cause the break up of your relations?

Yeah, on that same day

You said in the same interview that he (Leone) took it out on you on the credits...

No, he did include me in the credits. In my contract, I had a condition for the single card credit for the dialogue, which means only my name appears on the screen as "the original English dialogue" in OUTIW, and he (Leone) didn't honour the contract. He put my name on the list of technicians. In GBU I didn't ask for a credit, and they didn't want to give anybody a credit because they wanted the viewers to assume that it was shot in English

But your name appears on the opening credits of GBU

Oh, it does? As what?

As English version of the screenplay.

Oh, I didn't know that. So, they did give me a credit ha?

Yes, but I just watched the video version of OUTIW just to make sure, and your name wasn't mentioned in the opening credits. Also, I have a copy of the official publicity release document from Paramount Pictures, which I just checked it again today, and your name wasn't included in any part of the credits.

Sure, it is on the screen. I am at the very top of the list of technicians, and it says "Dialogue by Mickey Knox" and then it lists the rest of the technical staff, assistant director, camereman and so on. It's on the ending credits. People have noticed it, and told me about it. As a matter of fact, I was once introduced to the very famous English writer, Graham Greene, in Paris. He immediately said "oh, you wrote the English dialogue of OUTIW" . Where did he get it from? From the credits of the film probably.

Didn't you have the rights to make a legal case out of it?

I could have, but it's very difficult. It takes years and years, and I just didn't want to bother.

Have you discussed this issue with the producers?

He was the producer. How could I have discussed it with him? My problem was my lawyer, who drew up the contract, was also a friend of Leone.

Was he Italian?

Of course Italian. I was disappointed, because I thought I did a good job. I normally don't even ask for a credit, because if I don't like the picture I've worked with I just let it go like that. But, this one I really liked and I thought I did a pretty good job. As a matter of fact, as you know, he got Henry Fonda based on my version, not the version he originally had. Henry Fonda originally turned it down because he didn't like the first English version. Anyway, I would have liked getting the proper credit as I had in my contract, but he didn't do it so.

Have you been paid for it?

Oh, yes I was paid.

Do you mind if I ask the amount?

I don't remember what I got. You are talking about something done 30 years ago.

How was Leone's way of directing on the set? Was he a rough, excited, or was he rather a relaxed man?

He was tense, but cool. What I mean is that the crew had a great respect for him because they were scared of him. He knew what he wanted. It wasn't like some directors who weren't sure what they wanted. He had always seen the picture in his head. As a matter of fact, the music (for OUITW) was ready before the picture was made. So he knew everything. He knew what the music should be for every scene. I can't think of many films where the music was written before the movie is finished. He played the music when they were shooting the film.

How was the general atmosphere on the set (of OUTIW)?

Good, very good. He had good actors and they worked very well. He also had great stars as well, and they knew what to do. Leone was close to all of them.

Did the actors like working with Leone during the shooting of OUTIW?

He was very good to actors. You know that actors love close-ups. Henry Fonda said to me he never had such wonderful close-ups.

Did you ever work with Henry Fonda again after that film?

No, but I got a hand written letter from him, saying "Mickey, I know that you like to direct. If I can ever be of any help, please call on me. If I can help you out, I would certainly be there for you."

Why do you think Leone didn't use Eli Wallach instead of Jason Robards in that film?

The reason I think he didn't use Eli in that part is that Eli was so connected to his "Ugly" role in GBU as a comedic actor. He played a comic part in that film. Whereas Jason's part was not a comic part. He (Leone) was worried that Eli would convey the idea that it was kind of a part that is unbelievable. None of his picture is believable anyway (laughter).

Was there any friction between Italians and Americans representing two different cultures? How was the coherence among the different cultures handled on the set?

I tell you, I have worked in a lot of Italian pictures, and Italian crews are wonderful for two reasons: They are very, very good at their job, and also they are very sweet people. They have very good outlook about working with each other, and working with foreigners. They are wonderful!!...

But, different from Americans...

Well, they are the 'best' crew in the world. I have worked with Spain, England, France, and America. They are the best!!

I remember reading some articles, where stars like Clint Eastwood was complaining about the film making process, loose schedules, messy organisations and so on...

But, you've got to remember that American actors are used to certain kind of a regiment for schedules in America. The truth is, when I was in Italy, for many of the projects, the normal working day was 15 hours. May be it changed a bit over the years. But, that was terrible for an actor.

How was Henry Fonda reacting to that situation?

Well, he didn't like it too much. He complained a bit, and Leone tried to make it easier for him. But listen, I was on a picture here recently where I worked for 18 hours, and the next day I had to be operated from my eye. So, they do it here too. They do it worse as a matter of fact now. Television is terrible!

How was the film making process working with the actors? Was Leone always using the translator or was his English enough to describe a scene?

No, he knew no English then. He never learnt much English. For all his business affairs, he had his brother-in-law, who was an English teacher. But, on the set (of OUTIW) I did the most of the translating. He had me on the set throughout the whole picture. One of the reasons I was there was to help him in that area. His choice of actors were Charlie Bronson, Henry Fonda, to whom you didn't have to tell many things. They knew as much as he could ever tell them.

Is it true that Leone was very active in showing the characterisation himself on the sets?

No, not for the stars. He did for some of the people, who were not really actors. I mean people who appeared for the small parts. He wouldn't do it for the stars. You wouldn't act out a part for Henry Fonda.

Was there any improvisations on the set, may be through talking with each other, and developing new parts.

No, there wasn't that much spontaneous action going on. The script was there. Leone was open to suggestions from people, but mostly they stuck with the script.

How was Leone's relations with the producers? Was he loyal to the production budgets?

He was in fact sort of producer in those films. He did have somebody, who was the producer. Ehhhh, what was his name?

Alberto Grimaldi?

He was in GBU, but in OUTIW there was somebody else...

You mean Fulvio Morsella?

No, he was the brother-in-law of Sergio. He was also one of the producers. There was also another man, a very rich and noble man....

Bino Cicogna

Yes, that's him. He was one of the producers. That man also put money to produce the film, but in later years he had terrible debts. He had to leave the country, ended up in Brazil and found dead. They said he killed himself, but nobody really knows what happened to him.

(In this part of the interview Mickey Knox was referring to Bino Cicogna, whose name appears in the credits of OUTIW as associate producer in the official release document of Paramount Pictures, but as executive producer in the cover of the video tape of the film)

Have all these things happened right after OUTIW?

As I recall, it was pretty close to this movie, because he was very deeply in debt, and he had to leave the country....

All because of this film?

No, no he had many other debts. As I recall, it wasn't because of this movie. I'd doubt about that because the film was very successful.

I guess he was not the only one died among the crew of that film. What happened to Al Mulock, one of the three men of Frank, waiting for Harmonica at the little train station with Jack Elam and Woody Strode?

Oh, the man who committed suicide. I don't know exactly what happened. Actually, I was with Claudio Mancini in a hotel room, and we saw the body coming down, passed our window. I guess he was a very troubled guy. Nobody knew what the hell was wrong with him, or why he did it. I think he was a Canadian. The interesting part was that we went down, and the body was on the ground. There was Sergio Leone over there. Claudio Mancini put him in his car, and drove him to the hospital. But, before that Sergio Leone said to Mancini "get the costume, we need the costume". The guy was dying there, and Leone was asking for the costume. He (Mulock) had the costume, that he was wearing in the movie, on him when he jumped down.

Where did this happen?

I guess it was in a little hotel near or in the town of Guadix. We were getting ready to go to the location, and he was wearing the clothes, that he wore during the film.

How did you finish the shooting of the film?

He was unimportant. He was almost like an extra. He had very little to do.

But he was one of the three in that scene

He already did many of his parts. I don't remember any troubles during the shooting days.

So, was the film (OUTIW) finished within the planned budget? In other words, how was Leone managing the budget of that film?

Well, he was very lucky in that he was also one of the producers, as well as the director. So, he kept the budget in his mind anyway fairly loose, meaning that every picture has a budget before you start, but he rarely stuck to it. He made his own budget as we went along. He felt that the picture was more important than any budget. He always took a long time to shoot. He worked a lot of overtime. So, the budget was sort of elastic, since he was also the producer.

But, didn't Leone have any responsibilities to Paramount Pictures?

He also had a very good relationship with the head of Paramount and Gulf Western company. He was a very rich and young man, originally came from some part of Europe. Ehhh, what hell was his name? (he tries to remember, but couldn't recall the name). He made millions of dollars with Gulf oil. He liked Leone a lot. He thought Leone was a great director. So, Leone had a lot of freedom to do what he wanted (in OUTIW).

Do you remember the overall budget of that film?

Somewhere in the range of 5 to 8 million dollars. You know that 5 million dollars 30 years ago is like 25 million of today.

Did it run over the budget ?

It probably did because he took a long time to shoot. He didn't care about the budget, he only cared about the film.

Do you have the copy original script with you?

When I left Rome, I threw all my scripts out. It was just too much. I had a tremendous pile of paper at home. I had something like 150 scripts, and I just threw all out.

There are rumours that Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone had a big argument in the dubbing studio of GBU? Have you witnessed to that?

No, I tell you what happened. Clint Eastwood was working in another film, and couldn't come while I was working in the dubbing (of GBU). They did the whole dubbing of the film, except with Clint. Sergio Leone was so god damn cheap. I mean he was incredibly cheap, that he thought "well, I could manage Clint's dubbing myself" without paying me any salary and living allowance. He didn't want me to hang around to wait for Clint Eastwood, getting paid for doing nothing. So, I left. I did everything but Clint's parts.

So, Clint Eastwood spoke himself alone without any counter dialogue.

Yes, that's how you do it. He could hear other actor's dialogue, and speak his lines.

I have recently read a book by Oreste DeFornari on Sergio Leone (The Great Italian Dream of Legendary America - by Gremese Int. 1997 in English), where there is an interview with Sergio Donati. In there, Donati says that Eastwood arrived at the dubbing studio with the first original version of the shooting script, and insisted on reading it. Then, Chris Mankiewicz (then the VP of United Artists) threatened him badly and forced him to read the latest version.

Well, I know that there was a dispute, but Chris was running the project when I was doing it, and I am sure he was there after I left. My version was approved by United Artist that Chris worked for, and they were going to distribute the picture like that. That's why they were insisting on my version.

What exactly has happened during the determination of the English title of the film? Who decided to change the Italian sequence of "Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo" (which translates to English as The Good, The Ugly and The Bad) into "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"?

I think it was United Artists, who bought the rights of that film to distribute, and it was already "The Good The Bad and The Ugly" when I came to work on it.

Why was the theatrical release wrong?

I don't know about it. I have nothing to do about it.

If you happen to watch it, there is a crucial mistake there, showing Lee van Cleef as "The Ugly", and Eli Wallach as "The Bad". It is very obvious, and they repeat it several times. It is included within the latest release of the film on DVD, with all the cut scenes...

I know about that release. There was piece about it in the newspapers here recently. I contacted them, and they called me back, and I said to them I don't understand why the takes, which weren't used in the movie weren't translated into English. They evidently show the original Italian dubbing. They said "yes, you're right, but I don't know why they did it that way".

May be Clint Eastwood wouldn't accept it after all those days, and Lee Van Cleef is already dead...

Well, I don't even think they tried. They probably didn't want to spend any money.

Anyway, back to the mistake on the trailer, how do you comment on that?

It's stupid because Lee Van Cleef was not the Ugly at all. Eli Wallach was made up to be the Ugly.

How was it like working in Almeria?

In Almeria? Terrible (laughter). Guadix was terrible. Guadix were where we shot the railway station scenes and some others...

Where exactly in Guadix? I went to Almeria and Guadix personally and tried to find the actual shooting locations, like that Flagstone town and that little train station at the beginning. But I couldn't find any of these places.

Well, I don't know exactly, but I can tell you that we were in the middle of the desert. But, it was pretty far out. We had to get up early and drive there. It was hot and dusty.

Right at that point, let me ask you about the notorious fly, which appeared on the face of Jack Elam. Did that scene accidentally happen, or was it all planned before? A lot of people, including myself, still wonder about that?

No no, that was one of the Leone touches. It was on the script. I can't remember how they did it exactly. I think it was a real fly. The prop man had a jar with bunch of flies kept up. It's very easy to get them to do what you want because you rub a little honey on where you want them to crawl.

So it was a real fly

I guess so. I don't remember exactly, but the fly was so extraordinarily real in closeup. You know who can tell you all about it? Ask Claudio Mancini, the production manager. He would know about it for sure.

(Upon Mr.Knox's recommendation, I called up Claudio Mancini, and had a small interview. Although he covered many topics about this film, below are his words about the infamous fly subject: "At first we prepared a false fly with the special effect people, but it didn't work the way we wanted. We lost 1 hour with the false fly. Then we took a real fly and put marmalade on Elam's face, and the fly stayed there. We did with just one real fly. It was a miracle. The drop of the water on Woody's head took 2-3 hours to shoot. The entire little station scene took 4 days. We shot that scene 3 weeks before we finished. It was the last scene we shot in Spain")

Any other interesting anecdotes in the shooting of OUTIW that you want to add now?

(Long pause) There are a couple them that I can't talk about now. Leone hated to quit shooting at the end of a day. He always took 16-17 hours and argued with the production manager saying "What are you talking about. We have only been shooting for 8 hours. It's not finished yet." He once said to me "I gave 5 years of my life in every picture I made". And, I guess that's true, he died young.

So, even if you didn't work with him again, have you seen him after OUTIW?

I ran into him couple of times. In one time, I told him that although he was great as a director, personally he was a "stronzo" (he explains that this Italian word can be used in many ways, but he meant "turd" in English). I use the Italian term, because it is much better. Turd is a literal translation. It is a pretty heavy insult in many ways, but here meaning full of egotism bad, and Leone laughed when I said this. (laughter)

As far as we can see from the books, your works with the Spaghetti Western world didn't finish after Leone. Can you tell us somethings about your career apart from Leone films?

Oh yes, I was the executive producer of the film, originally called 'Viva la Muerta Dua' (a.k.a. Long Live Your Death), starring Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave, and Franco Nero (directed by Duccio Tessari in 1971). Wallach played a dirty Mexican bandit.

You mentioned in your previous interview that Franco Nero didn't want to work with Sergio Corbucci, because Corbucci showed most of his attention to the other actor in a previous film.

Ah yes, Tomas Milian was the other leading star in the film, called "Companeros", and when I said to Franco that I wanted to get Sergio Corbucci as the director, he said "I won't work with him". I said "but he's the best for our movie", he said "oh no, no he snubbed me all through the picture, and he gave all of his attention to Tomas". I said "come on, what are you talking about? I know Sergio Corbucci, and he's a very nice man". He said "yes, but...". I don't know, I guess something must have happened. I have a feeling that something came up between Tomas and Franco, and Sergio decided in favor of Tomas. But, he (Franco) regretted it later.

What do you say about Sergio Corbucci as a director?

He was a very lackadaisical producer, unlike Leone. He would show up 11 o'clock in the morning, where people had been waiting until 7. He was a very nice, lovely man but he was there just to make some money. He was a totally different kind of man as compared to Leone.

Looking back to the history of Western films all together, how do you comment now on what was done in the Spaghetti Westerns, versus the classical American Westerns?

Well, you know Sergio did things that Americans never did. What Sergio had done were very authentic. For example, those long coats, called dusters that they wear in his films. Out in the west, they really used to wear them to protect themselves from all the dust. Sergio did a tremendous research. He had a lot of books and photographs of the west. In the American Westerns, they discarded that idea because they weren't attractive. You know, they had tight pants, gun belts and so on. So, Sergio had all those details in his films. Do you remember the train in GBU with the cannon at the end of it?

Yes I do

The train starts going, and at the end of it there is a cannon. I said to him "where did you get that?" He showed me a photograph in an American book. It was to protect the trains against the attacks during the Civil War.

So, it is true what we read that he was a very meticulous man on all those details.

He sure was. I never forget Sergio and Henry Fonda trying to find a proper hat for Fonda. I was with them. They have tried hundreds of hats for hours. (laughter) In GBU, he came up with the idea that instead of carrying a gun belt for Eli, he wanted to let it hang free. Eli said "how the hell am I going grab the gun? show me" So, Sergio put it around his neck, and tried up and down but he couldn't do it. We shot the interiors of OUTIW in Rome. Interior of McBain's house, where mostly Claudia Cardinale was shown. Also, the interior of the inn where Charles Bronson first meets Jason Robards were all constructed in Rome. That inn was very authentic because it was a very rough hue kind of a place. Most other westerns showed bars just like the bars today in the sense of lighting. But, that wasn't true at all. Leone's use of lighting was very authentic. It was very dimly lit. There was a magnificent moment where Jason Robards pushed the gas lamp towards Bronson, sitting in the dark. You start seeing his face when the lamp reaches there.

And the lamp swings up and down with the light shimmering on Bronson's face...

Yes, yes that was gorgeous. Isn't it?

It sure is. Was that on the script or did they create it on the set?

No, that was a Leone touch, and all were on the script.

How did Charles Bronson get along with Leone on the set? As you know he previously turned down the Eastwood's role offered by Leone.

Fine, no problem

How was the first meeting between Sergio Leone and Henry Fonda? I am curious about how Leone reacted when he first met Fonda, because, as you may know, Fonda had always been Leone's dream actor.

As a matter of fact, I was there to translate. It was very cordial. The reason why he liked him so much was because Fonda was one of John Ford's premier actors. John Ford was Leone's god. He had seen every Ford picture, and Henry Fonda was in many of them.

Were they a lot of takes during the shooting of Leone films? I mean, was he easily satisfied from one or two takes, or did he require many takes?

Sergio did it until they got it done the way he wanted, which wasn't generally that many takes. It wasn't like William Wyler, who did 400 takes. He (Wyler) could never tell people what he wanted. No, no it wasn't like that in Sergio's films, because Sergio set up each scene in such a degree that he knew what he wanted, the actors knew what he wanted, and once you get the performances of actors like Jason Robards, who is a great actor, Charles Bronson, who does his own thing, Henry Fonda, how many takes do you need?

We know that you never acted the lead role in those Spaghetti Westerns, but can we at least see you in any of these Spaghetti Westerns as a bit part actor?

I did very little because when I was hired I was always involved working with the director. I generally translated the script originally, then they hired me to work on the movie with dialogue and on the set translations of directors like Sergio Corbucci. So, I never really had a chance to act. In most of these Spaghetti Westerns, they generally had an American star, and an Italian star, everybody else was nobody. They didn't have the money to pay.

Leone also had a sort of his own stock company with a small group of Italian actors always showing up in all of his westerns.

There were some actors he used great deal, also as stunt men. Because they were cheap, he hired them for the whole movie. Guys like Benito Stafenallli, Aldo Sambrell and so on. I knew them all. He would pay them very little money to act in it and to do the stunts.

Speaking of stunts, let me ask you the question which many Leone fans ask around. There is one scene in OUTIW, where Frank's men came to Flagstone to kill Frank after being paid by Morton. There is a shootout in the town, and one of the stunts fell down terribly from the roof of the building on the ground, and looked as if he broke his neck. Who was that guy and what really happened to him after that scene?

That was Fabio Testi, who later became a star. He was the worst stunt man they ever had. He did a lousy fall. It looked very good on the screen, but he hurt himself. He wasn't a good stuntman at all. And, he later became a star. He was a good looking man, but not a good actor at all. In fact, I once suggested him for a film done by John Derek and Bo Derek, and they fired him. He was so bad.

Any last comments about working with Leone?

The only last comment I have is, he wasn't a very nice person. I mean as a person. But, as a man who made movies, I have worked with around 80 directors, and I say he was really one of the top in terms of movie making. On the other hand, people can read whatever they wanted from his movies. He never had any profound ideas to express. As I said, they were all fairy tales, terrific stories on the script and turned out to be terrific stories on the screen. He was a smart guy. He never duplicated the American westerns, because it wasn't what he wanted. He had his own angle. His heroes were very tough, but in essence decent. I mean, decent in the sense that they would not kill women and children. Instead, he had Henry Fonda kill them. And, Henry said to me "I will never going to make to America. They are going to kill me. I've never shot a kid before" He (Leone) was very smart that he took Henry Fonda's sweet lovable, guy image to shoot the kid. Charles Bronson, another tough guy, who always played the tough, mean characters, to be the hero in OUTIW. All those characters were his inventions in his head. You would never see heroes like that until his films appeared.

Would you have worked with Leone again if he had offered you a project, like in his last project about the Siege of Leningrad?

Actually, a friend of mine was going to be the producer of that film. I don't know if I would ever work him again. That picture was going to take at least 6 months in Russia. I don't know if I'd like to spend 6 months with that man in Russia. It's an enourmous project. I don't think he would have ever done it. The last time I saw him in Cinecitta, he told me that he was going to do that picture. I said "I think you are a fool. It'll kill you". No director I have ever worked with before him ever worked so hard, so concentrated. The picture was in his mind for 24 hours a day, unlike most of the others. When the day is over they go home, they have a drink, it's all over. One of the reason his pictures are so brilliant is because he devoted full time for his movies. But, I don't know if I would have ever worked with him again. May be if it was in somewhere else.

Have you ever given any interviews specifically about Leone before?

No. I have been interviewed many times generally, and was asked about him, but none of them was in-depth specific about Leone. As a matter of fact, they did a very long interview with me about Norman Mailer by British Television, and his name came up because I introduced him to Leone, and Leone hired him to write the treatment and the screenplay of 'Once Upon A Time in America'. Norman delivered 200 pages of treatment.

What's your relationship with Norman Mailer?

He is my closest friend. I speak to him almost everyday. We are very old and close friends. There are several books, biographies written about Norman, and I was interviewed for him.

How did Mailer and Leone get along in the end?

Well, in the end there was a warfare. I mean, the producer was suing Leone and Mailer. They didn't want to pay Mailer his last payment. Mailer won the case of course, and they had to pay him.

Can you tell us more about your career? What do you do now?

I was an actor. I made 16 pictures in 3 years. And then there was the McCarthy period, and hundreds of us were blacklisted. There is a book called "Tender Comrades" by Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle, came out couple of months ago. In the book there is a long interview with me. Then I went to Europe. I worked on "The Longest Day" in France as dialogue writer and I acted. I also worked in Italy. I must have adapted 150 scripts, and acted in many films, I produced a film. I returned to the US about 3 years ago, after 35 years in Europe. I still do some acting nowadays.

Looking at your career, you obviously had a tremendous experience with almost all methods of acting. What would your advice be to the young actors and students of acting?

It's good to have those books on acting. It's good to read Stanislavsky's books. Everthing is related with your cultural understanding. An actor should know about painting, literature and etc. The acting schools teach people acting, but, on the other hand, you have people like Marlon Brando, who didn't need any of them. He was born to be an actor. I guess he's the best actor of the century.

Who would you rate as the best actor, among the ones who are still active today?

Robert DeNiro is great. Al Pacino is an extraordinarily good actor.

Looking back now, it looks obvious that the black list period caused a dramatic change in your career. How do you comment on it now? Would you rather like to stay in the US or would you consider yourself lucky for being in Europe?

None of that thing was luck when I was blacklisted and couldn't work. Luckily, I spoke French, and fairly good Italian at that point. I had a place to go where I can work. I mean I loved living in Europe.

But, you didn't plan to live in Europe...

No, but you never know what might happen in a life. I know that I was in big demand for lead parts, when I did 15 in first 3 years.

But, if it wasn't the blacklist period, you would have had a different career based in the US, right?

Oh yes, I would have been at least an actor that would have worked a great deal. I am not saying I might have been one of the big stars, but I certainly could have been as big as Tony Curtis. I was basicly an actor, and my career was truncated, and I lived with it. It's one of those things. I couldn't cut my throat. My life continued, and I am happy now. You look back and see the mistakes you made, and might say if I did this instead of that things would have gone differently, but you can't live that way. I made a very big mistake. I turned down a famous picture, called "The Steel Helmet", directed by Sam Fuller. He ran after me to do the picture. He saw me in a movie, and he liked me a lot. He lived next to Kirk Douglas then, and he said to him "do you know Mickey Knox" and Kirk said "of course I know him, we are both in contract to Hal Wallis" So I met Sam Fuller, and he said "I am writing a script for you". I thought it was about the people who loved war, and I turned it down. It turned out to be a big hit. The man who played it, Gene Evans became a star of sort, and died last week.

How did you learn that you were blacklisted?

I learnt about it because very good friend of mine, and an important producer told me. He said "you were blacklisted".

Did you fight against it?

There was no way to fight back. Who can you fight against?

How long did it take for you to move out to Europe once you learned about it?

I went to Europe in 1952 for the first time to work in Italy. Then, later I came back and worked as a dialogue director, because that wasn't blacklisted. People that were blacklisted were actors, directors, producers. They didn't give a shit about the dialogue directors. So, I did a lot of pictures as a dialogue director in Hollywood.

Mr.Knox, I thank you very much for your time. I just would like to mention one more time that many Leone fans, like myself, appreciate your contribution to Leone's two big western films. So, on behalf of all the Leone fans, thanks again.

Oh, well, I am flattered. In many of the dialogue of these films, as I said, I had to think of proper English parts. I couldn't directly translate from Italian, because it wouldn't make any sense. But, thanks for your comments anyway.

No, no, really, I am not joking

So, it's not a joke, it's rope ha? (big laughters) M

Note from Cenk Kiral: The entire interview is the collection of four interviews I made with Mr.Knox on January 18th, February 1st in 1997, and March 21st, April 9th in 1998, and all the conversations were taped. Photos by: Cenk Kiral

All right reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Cenk KIRAL. Please apply to the following contact points for any permissions:
e-mail: cenk.kiral@turkey.ncr.com
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