"Marlene called me when I was working in Moscow," said Maximilian Schell. "And she sent me two letters. 'I was not very nice to you,' she wrote. 'I apologize.' In fact, she was nice; we had only one row."
Two years ago, Schell sat down in Marlene Dietrich's Paris apartment for an exclusive, 15-hour conversation about her life and times. The result was a fascinating, 90-minute documentary, "Marlene," which has been shown at several European film festivals and was nominated for an Oscar last year.
Schell is now negotiating to have the documentary released here as a feature.
"I think people will be interested," he said in Los Angeles this week. "It's probably the last thing Marlene will ever do."
Dietrich has twice tried to pen her autobiography--without success. So Schell's conversations with her--ranging over her entire life--are likely the only such record we'll ever have.
The documentary, which shows outtakes from her final movie, "Just a Gigolo," includes the row she and Schell had at one point during the discussions (she objected to a videotape being used).
"You should go back (to his Swiss home) and learn some manners," she storms.
Said Schell: "When I'd finished work on that documentary, I felt that for the first time I truly understood her legend."
Apart from discussions about "Marlene," Schell is writing a book, "On Second Call," about his experiences in Russia making the NBC miniseries "Peter the Great," in which he plays the lead (it airs Feb. 2-5).
"I kept a diary about what was happening right from the first day," he said. "It's the first time I've done that. So I have lots of material."
Included in the story, of course, will be his chagrin at finding that his role would be finished by a double. Due to prior commitments--an opera to direct in Berlin, a stage appearance in Salzburg--Schell did not complete the role. But it's his voice we shall hear. When it was all over, he spent days in a dubbing studio, recording the lines.
BUSY YEAR: Judith de Paul is a handsome former opera singer (she sang "Tosca" and "Carmen" at the Met) who now works in London making television specials and miniseries. On Jan. 26, her latest production, "Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy," will be aired by PBS.
This is yet another production in which a white actor will be seen playing an Indian--Royal Shakespeare Company star Ian Richardson as Nehru.
"Mrs. Gandhi herself approved the choice before her death," De Paul said on a recent visit to Los Angeles. "She wanted a fine artist to play Nehru, and with his head shaved, Richardson does look remarkably like him."
De Paul, who struck up a friendship with Mrs. Gandhi when they were filming in India (it was just before the prime minister was assassinated), plans to produce a miniseries about her, "Indira Gandhi: If I Die Tomorrow."
"I was totally in awe of her," De Paul said. "She was a truly remarkable woman."
Through her company, Silver Chalice Productions, she is also planning a miniseries--it could end up as a feature--on Klaus Barbie, the "butcher" of Lyons. The Nazi war criminal is in a French prison awaiting trial.
De Paul, 42, is the only American television producer now based in London. "I don't know why that should be," she said. "It's a great place to operate. But don't tell everybody; I like having the town to myself."
REAL FAMILY: British actress Helen Mirren, last seen in "White Nights," has been cast opposite Harrison Ford in the movie of Paul Theroux's novel, "The Mosquito Coast," to start shooting in Belize next month.
The film, produced by Jerome Hellman and directed by Peter Weir, is about a man who decides to move his family to a wild, almost uninhabited coastal region of Central America.
Said Hellman, before he left for Belize this week: "I've admired Helen Mirren's work ever since I saw her in that British film 'Cal.' And as soon as she and Harrison began doing tests with the children, I knew she was right. Suddenly, there was a real sense of family there, which we needed. You didn't feel this was a Hollywood group."
The cast and crew will be there for three months.
"We're having to take everything with us," said Hellman. "It's a beautiful but very primitive country."
HELPING OUT: Veteran actor-director John Huston, 79, has agreed to play a small role in a new movie, "Mr. Corbett's Ghost," to be shot in London this summer.
He said yes only because he knew the director well. It's his son, Danny Huston, 23, who's making his first movie.