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'Sugarbaby's' Adlon Is Positive On Success

December 28, 1985|RODERICK MANN

"Most people are convinced deep down that they have some handicap, some defect that makes it hard for them to achieve true happiness. I wrote this film to give them hope, to show that if your attitude to life is positive, then you can always succeed."

Percy Adlon, the Munich-born producer-director-writer of "Sugarbaby" (Goldwyn Pavilion), picked a highly unlikely heroine to make his point--a lonely, 250-pound female mortician. But it is her pursuit and eventual seduction of a young, thin German subway conductor that illustrates his belief: If you try hard enough, you'll succeed.

Since it was first screened at the New York Film Festival this year, "Sugarbaby" has earned rave reviews on both coasts. And Adlon, at 50 a late-comer to the world of feature films (this is only his fourth movie), is understandably elated.

"The film did well in Berlin and Vienna," said Adlon, who is in Los Angeles on an extended visit, "but I never expected this sort of reception in America. Though I must say America has always been very kind to my films (previous features: "Celeste," 1981; "Five Last Days," 1982; "The Swing," 1984). That has always encouraged me."

The theme of "Sugarbaby" comes as no surprise to those who know Adlon's love of offbeat subjects ("Celeste" was all about Marcel Proust's devoted housekeeper). What is interesting is his determination to show that a fat woman can be attractive--and is (in the shape of actress Marianne Sagebrecht), as she overwhelms her man (Eisi Gulp) with food and sex and bubble baths.

"Of course I wrote the story for Marianne, whom I knew," said Adlon. "It had to be that way. It would have been impossible to go to an agent and say: 'I've written this story for a fat woman. Any suggestions?' "

Although a contemporary of such German movie makers as Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and Volker Schlondorff, Adlon says he never mixes with them.

"I don't like to be part of any group," he said. "And, remember, I did not make my first feature until I was 46. There were reasons for this. First, I was doing well with my documentaries (he's made more than 50). Second, I did not dare. I felt I did not have enough experience of life to say anything interesting in a film. Finally I did. Now here I am 50 years old, and I feel I'm just starting out."

Adlon plans to spend the next six months in Los Angeles researching a new project.

"When I was at Filmex last year with 'The Swing,' a woman I met told me about a relative of mine--an uncle about whom I knew little--who had come here from Germany before the war and knew prewar Hollywood very well. He had a fascinating life and, the more I thought about it, the more I felt it would make a good film. So that's what I'm doing next."

Like Percy Adlon, the uncle was a member of the famous Adlon hotel family. In prewar days, Berlin's Adlon was one of the most famous hotels in Europe (it was the inspiration for Vicki Baum's "Grand Hotel"). It was destroyed at the end of World War II.

"I think it's going to be my most interesting story so far," said Adlon. "I'm a lucky man to be able to make the films I want, I must say. Not every film maker can do that."

ENCOURAGED: "I think it's the best script I've ever written," said Gore Vidal. "The whole thing has been a very pleasant experience."

It is six years since Vidal wrote the first screenplay from Lucian K. Truscott IV's novel, "Dress Gray." It was planned as a feature, but directors came and went, among them Herb Ross and Lindsay Anderson, and the project got nowhere.

Then, last year, Vidal was asked to expand it to a four-hour television series for NBC. This he did. And when shooting finished the other day--it stars Hal Holbrook and Lloyd Bridges and is directed by Glenn Jordan--he pronounced himself highly encouraged.

"I've seen quite a lot of it, and it's beautifully done," he said. (It airs in March.) "So it's a happy ending to a long, drawn-out project."

Vidal then flew off--on Christmas Day--for his first visit to Tahiti.

"It's the only way I know to bring Christmas to its knees," he said: "Spend it on an airplane."

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