Cleopatra faced countless problems during its filming and production: passionate casting disputes, broken contracts, a costly re-location from London to Rome, an emergency tracheotomy for its star, Elizabeth Taylor, scandal-ridden gossip surrounding relationships on set, and a budget of $2 million that ballooned to final costs of $44 million. Legendary producer Walter Wanger recalls the drama that occurred both on and off the set, including the incredible obstacles he had to overcome and the exhilaration of producing a cinematic triumph. A revealing story about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s tempestuous romance and an insightful filmmaker’s journal, now back in print for the 50th anniversary of Cleopatra’s release, My Life with Cleopatra shares the true story of the relationship and film that enthralled the world.
“I have been told by responsible journalists that there was more world interest in Cleopatra, which I produced, and in its stars—Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Rex Harrison—than in any event of 1962.” —Walter Wanger
About Walter Wanger
Walter Wanger, the producer of Cleopatra, attended Dartmouth, served as a reconnaissance pilot with the Signal Corps of the US Army in Italy in WWI, was appointed attaché to the American Peace Mission headed by President Wilson and attended the Paris Peace Conference. In the early 1920s, Wanger worked at Paramount Studios where he acquired the novel The Sheik, which was made into a successful film starring Rudolph Valentino. After a brief hiatus in England, Wanger returned to Paramount where he was general manager of production from 1924 to 1931. He was president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 1939-1941, for which he received an Honorary Academy Award in 1946. The producer of more than 60 motion pictures, including the first outdoor color film and Queen Christina, Scarlet Street, Stagecoach, Foreign Correspondent, I Want to Live and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he worked with such directors as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, Victor Fleming Fritz Lang and Don Siegel; and such stars as Ingrid Bergman, the Marx Brothers, Henry Fonda, Charles Boyer, Cary Grant Claudette Colbert, Frederic March, Susan Hayward, and Greta Garbo. He married Justine Johnson, a Ziegfield Girl and later the actress Joan Bennett with whom he had two daughters. He died in 1968.
About Joe Hyams
Joe Hyams was a Hollywood columnist, former movie editor of This Week magazine, and Hollywood correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. He was the author or co-author of over two dozen books, many of which are bestselling biographies of Hollywood stars. He died in 2008.
About Kenneth Turan
Kenneth Turan has been a film critic for the Los Angeles Times since 1991 and the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes since 1993. He teaches nonfiction writing and film criticism at the University of Southern California and provides regular reviews for Morning Edition on National Public Radio.
“Absolutely ravishing reading. . . . To read [My Life with Cleopatra] . . . was to be absorbed and delighted all over again by Mr. Wanger's ‘diary,’ with the help of reporter Joe Hyams. One is struck by Wanger's calm collected intellectual vigor, his defense of Elizabeth the star, his defense of the talented Joe Mankiewicz as the final director, and his annoyance, irritation and disapproval of the then 20th Century Fox executive division.”
—Liz Smith, The Huffington Post
“The story of the movie’s production—which is also the story of how the budget got so big—is pretty remarkable, and is told remarkably by its producer, Walter Wanger, in the 1963 book, My Life with Cleopatra. . . . I’ve written often about the crucial role played by independent producers, in classic Hollywood and today, in liberating the best directors from the heavy hand of the studio system. Wanger was a friend to directors at a time when they needed all the friends they could get.”
—Richard Brody, The New Yorker