Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy of 1964, Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, was back on TV this week. Terrific movie. Sterling Hayden’s General Jack Ripper and his “precious bodily fluids” madness. The great George C. Scott. And the three roles played by Peter Sellers.
It was the first movie I saw in America after arriving in New York City by cargo vessel in the summer of 1964.
I saw it in a movie theater on 42nd Street. A young man barely out of his teens, alone in the most exciting city in the world, living in a bare-bones room on 48th Street with a few resident cockroaches, and I couldn’t have been happier.
A few years later, in the late 1970s, I was staying at the old Tudor Hotel on East 42nd Street across the street from Grand Central Station (the hotel is now called Westgate New York Grand Central). To me, at that time, Grand Central was the center of the universe. Still is.
I was taking the elevator down to the street. At one of the floors, Sterling Hayden got in, just the two of us in the elevator. He was a tall (6 feet 5), imposing man with an impressive beard at the time. He said hello and I said hello, and then, nervous as hell, I told him how much I liked his role in Dr Strangelove.
He thanked me and then in his rapid-fire voice told me, in a frank way I found surprising for two strangers in an elevator, that it was a difficult part to play. “We did a lot of takes,” he said. “I wanted to get it right, you see.”
”You got it right,” I told him. And then I asked him if he had a new new role coming up.
“I got something up in Canada,” he said, “that’s where I’m heading.” It turned out he was referring to the 1981 comedy Gas with Susan Anspach and Donald Sutherland — not one of his better roles. One of his best was the tough guy in the 1950 film noir The Asphalt Jungle. But the best in my opinion was as General Jack Ripper.
I came across this clip of Sterling Hayden talking about his role as Gen. Ripper. It took me back to a great time in my life.