An Interview with Alfredo Leone by Troy Howarth
Though best known for his collaborations with famed Italian cult director Mario Bava (1914-1980), Alfredo Leone has had a rich and varied career in the entertainment industry. This interview, conducted via email by Troy Howarth, sheds some light on his background. Here you can read about his origins in the film industry, the circumstances that led him to Mario Bava, the inside story behind their collaborations, and the fallout that nearly destroyed their friendship. Our thanks to Mr. Leone for his time, patience and generosity in taking part in this interview.
1. I'd like to start off with a little biographical info about you. Feel free to mention as much as you'd like about your background, how you got into films, etc.
Being very successful in real estate and investments, I was approached by a dear friend to invest $30,000 in a TV show in 1956. The program’s moderator was Norman Brokinshire, known as Golden Throat at the time. The title of the series was Address the Nation. The producer proved to be incompetent, and as a result I was determined to take over the show, which I did. I continued to dabble in various productions in the U.S., and acquired literary rights to paperback novels with a view of producing them into features. In 1955 I then partnered with a Polish wannabe producer unknown to me at the time and formed B&L Productions, and we acquired Italian films, which were available for the U.S. market, one of which was the Luchino Visconti classic Senso. I went to L.A. and met Sam Arkoff of AIP in the hope of licensing some of the films, which did not happen. AIP was in its infancy at the time; however, little did I know that later in years Arkoff and I would develop a relationship.
Through one of my attorneys I was then introduced to Eddie Bracken, a legend in his time, known for Hail the Conquering Hero and Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, both directed by Preston Sturgess; and another chap, Renato De Angeles, an Italian producer who was associated with Errol Flynn at the time in the production of William Tell , which was never completed. Through Bracken and De Angeles, I made contact with many people that later would become very famous in show business such as Harold Robbins, George Schaffer, Howard Esterbrook, Bill Goldman, Seymour Lazar, etc. Bracken and I would remain life-long friends to this day. We formed Paradise Productions, and acquired the rights worldwide to a novel by Terreska Torres, titled Woman's Barracks, and contracted Harold Robbins to write the screenplay (which I still own to this day). With the funds we paid Robbins, he was able to support himself while writing The Carpet Baggers (Robbins was broke at the time due to failing in a studio he owned in NY.) I fronted a loan of $50,000, which was to be the funds required in a co-production to produce Woman' s Barracks in Italy...which eventually caused me to go to Rome. Completely disgusted and disappointed as the production never came to realty and the funds dissipate, I returned to the U.S. and again concentrated on real estate and financing. I kept my finger in show business, maintaining my friendship with both Bracken and De Angeles (who is now deceased).
L.A. premiere of Kidnapped Leone (Far Right)
I then was introduced to David B. Putnam, not to be confused with the British producer. This Putnam is from the prominent American family whose name is honored in many areas of the country as in Putnam County, etc. and whose father was married to Amelia Airhart at the time of her disappearance, and whose grandfather founded Binney and Smith (Crayola). David was having financial problems at the time. As a result we entered into agreement and I consulted him out of serious trouble with his fortune. Having accomplished this, we joint ventured in real estate. I acquired 25% of The North Beach Development Corp. located in Fort Pierce, Florida, which owned 360 some odd acres of beachfront property amongst other ventures
2. My first meeting with Bava.
David Putnam and I were stopping at the Century Plaza Hotel, while en route to Mexico City to acquire a parcel of land for development of a complex which included condos and a golf course, when David received a telegram from Rome, Italy, that there was an emergency and decisions had to be made that only he could make in order to complete the production of Four Times that Night (of which I knew nothing about). David explained that he was financing the production and pleaded with me to accompany him to Rome, as he knew my background in production and further stated as his partner it was my duty to assist him in this situation.
We arrived in Rome, and met with the Italian producer, who in reality was a Yugoslav living in Rome with an Italian company called Delfino Film. Arrangements were made to view the footage which was previous shot (production was halted as they ran out of money) hence the reason for David to come to Rome. The footage in total was approximately 30 minutes of several scenes if edited would not be more than 5 minutes of playing time. I told Dave to forget the film ,write it off and let us return to Mexico and continue with our project. Dave explained that it was not possible; as he had accepted funds from a large investment banker, it could prove humiliating to his reputation. Having little choice I took over the production, and my first meeting with Mario Bava, a very quiet, polite man that discussed the production with me and his needs. I knew very little about him other than the limited knowledge of his directorial accomplishments. I was anxious to complete the production and get on with our business in the U.S. and Mexico.
3. Bava once joked that he only made FOUR TIMES, and I quote, “because at that time in Italy, if you refused to make an erotic film, they took you for a homosexual." Did he seem uncomfortable dealing with the sexually oriented subject matter?
I have never heard that the reason he took the assignment to direct Four Times that Night other than the need of the money in order to continue his carrier. I believe the rumor is untrue. Anyone that knew Bava would have no doubt as to his manly preference.
4. Rumor has it that you were dissatisfied with the English dubbing for this film, and this is why no English track was provided on the DVD. Personally I find the film even more entertaining in English as it seems the dub was done with more care than usual. Why, precisely, were you dissatisfied with it?
The English dub at the time, 1970, was a complete turn off in the English speaking world at the time because of the heavy Southern drawl portrayed by Daniel Giordano, especially in the U.S. All the distributors criticized the accent and stayed away from the film.
5. FOUR TIMES ran into censorship problems right away and was actually blocked from Italian cinemas for several years. Director Riccardo Freda, then-head of the censorship board in Italy and a friend of Bava's who helped him starting directing, said he blocked the film to do him a favor because he felt it was shoddy. What do you make of this?
At the time I was not familiar with Riccardo Freda, or his relationship to Mario Bava. The truth of the matter is I had a run-in with the Italian distributor Euro International, they insulted the American system of distribution, one word led to another, and I tore up the contract and threw it on the desk of the executive heading the company. That is the only reason the film was not passed the censorship (it is something I regret to this day). Years later Freda and I became very close friends, and I assisted him in several Spanish productions in Madrid.
6. There's a gap of several years between FOUR TIMES and BARON BLOOD, your next film with Mario Bava. Did you two keep in touch during that time, and did you two have any projects that might have fallen through during that time?
Bava and I became good friends by the end of the production of Four Times. Earning his respect did not come easily, however; having proved myself on the set and off was the result. Bava was not excited about Baron Blood or other projects at the time, and it took a great deal of time and patience to convince him to do Baron Blood .One of the key factors was signing Joseph Cotten and Elke Sommer in addition to taking him out of his beloved Italy to Vienna (which was an ordeal in itself as Bava had never worked outside of Italy).
7. Joseph Cotten was at the beginning of a mini-career in horror films at that time, having just finished The Abominable Dr. Phibes for AIP in England and then staying on in Italy for films like Lady Frankenstein. What was his attitude towards the project? Did he and Bava get along well?
Having been turned down by Vincent Price and Ray Milland, a friend suggested Joseph Cotten. He accepted readily. Bava and Cotten got along beautifully, both being pros. Cotten was excited about going back to Vienna for the first time since The Third Man, and now he had his lovely wife Patricia Medina with him as a surprise, I booked him in the same hotel, which was The Bristol.
8. BARON BLOOD was cut by several minutes and completely rescored by AIP on release in America. Was Bava aware of this, and if so, what was his attitude towards these kinds of revisions?
Bava had no objection to the change in music score as he was familiar with Les Baxter, the edit was insignificant less than 6mins.and Bava was delighted that I had made a deal with AIP to release BARON BLOOD knowing that it would bring recognition to him and his carrier.
9. The screenplay credits for LISA AND THE DEVIL vary considerably depending on which print you see. The version now available on DVD is credited to yourself and Bava, whereas the Italian one credits several different writers but not yourself. How closely did you work with Bava on this script? It was something he had wanted to make for some time.
The Italian version of LISA AND THE DEVIL, does not include me because according to the co-production treaty only citizens of the co-production countries can be credited I was not citizen of Italy at that time and also it would of jeopardized the Italian premium had I taken the credit. Outside the co-production countries there is no restrictions that is why I took my rightful credit. I worked very closely with Bava on the script along with the other credited writers. Bava would welcome my suggestions, on the set I said why don't we get a jumbo Jet like I did with Baron Blood and finish the film with Savalas at the helm as the Pilot bringing all the dammed souls to hell, Bava reacted with his usual remark in Italian "Stronzo Americano" which was similar what do you jerky Americans know (endearingly)
10. It strikes me as curious that Bava always photographed his own films, yet he didn't actually light this very personal project. Why was it that Cecilio Paniagua shot the film instead of Bava?
It was Bava himself that selected Celio Paniagua, according to the co-production agreement with Spain that was part of the rules as we were shooting in Spain....They both got along extremely well and had a mutual respect for one another Bava worked in harmony with Panigua.
11. How closely was Bava involved in the scoring of his films? I know that he played "Concerto d'Aranjuez" on the set of LISA, but did he offer input into the scoring of the other pictures as well?
LISA, was special Bava had selected "Concerto d` Aranjuez" before the screenplay was written Bava then asked me to try to get the rights to the Paul Muriat arrangement which I did. Bava was involved in every facet of the films and I was alongside him all the time in every film we worked together beginning with 4x that night after I overcame his friendship.
12. Going back to BARON BLOOD for a moment, a small role is played by Luciano Pigozzi, known by Italian horror fans as "the Italian Peter Lorre" and a veteran of several other Bava pictures. What was he like to work with, and did Bava and he have a good rapport?
Bava was very loyal to several actors and crew members Pigozzi was one of them, the respect that Pigozzi had for Bava, one would think they were related Pigozzi was terrific to work with never any problems or pretension. The crew was the same I could never convey to you the atmosphere that existed. Bava only had to ask and he was served with love and respect.
13. At what point did the project now known as KIDNAPPED get started? You were originally going to produce the film with Bava directing but that fell apart. Could you explain that a little? Between the revisions of LISA AND THE DEVIL and the KIDNAPPED experience, did you and Bava have a serious falling out?
During the Production of LISA, Bava had shown me a article that he got from a US magazine which was very short but had enough to excite Bava into wanting to make a film on the article. I agreed, Bava was to stay with me for ever we had agreed. The Spanish co producer and I had reached an agreement to produce three films together. However prior to signing the agreement, my production manager Joe Di Blase insisted that I do not sign this deal I could not understand why. He insisted and convinced me to listen to him. He said I am your Production manager and you should listen to me. I did I will regret to my grave. (I found out eventual why he broke the deal had I gone along and not listened Bava would have been committed to me). Joe had a great background having been working for the Major studios including Fox on Cleopatra, etc. Unfortunately Lisa became a problem as you know Joe Di Blase was my production manager during the production of Lisa, on occasion Bava and I would be discussing the plans to produce A Man and A Boy which was the original title. I contacted the attorney that represented the author and worked out the deal to acquire the rights for what was a nominal amount of money. Unknown to me my production manager Joe had other ideas. He was at the end of his career and knew that he was being discharged after Lisa was completed. A distributor in the NYC. USA wanted to do a film me with Bava directing as it turned out we did not see eye to eye. Joe contacted the US Distributor (Braynston) Knowing that Bava was free as the Spanish deal was cancelled and set up a deal with them. They purchased the rights from under me (I did not know it at the Time) Joe was dismissed What followed was additional shooting of HOUSE OF EXORCISM. Bava and I disagreed for the first time. Bava did not want to touch Lisa, however he conceded because of our friendship...nonetheless he would refuse to shoot any scenes with profanity and or sexually driven. During the writing of the script in the office Bava asked me the status of the rights to A Man and A Boy. I said I had purchased them and upon my arrival in New York meet with the attorney and close the deal...several days later he approached me and said someone else purchased the rights and he was committed do the picture. Needless to say I was crushed. The rest is history. Finally he walked out and I had to complete the film, which included the editing scoring and dubbing. Bava demanded I take his name off the film. I agreed. The editor Carlo Reale stayed on with me. I suspect Bava had a hand in that as I know he was my friend. News reached him of the progress and outcome of HOUSE OF EXORCISM. My father passed on and upon my return to Rome. Bava paid his respects as he was leaving my home as he reached the door he stopped turned around and said if it pleases you, you can put my name back on the film, at which point I said if you want me to put your name on the film, you will have to ask me. Bava said please put my name back on. I said I can only do it in Italy as the prints were already in release in the foreign markets. He agreed and we buried the hatchet.
14. HOUSE OF EXORCISM, the reedited version of LISA AND THE DEVIL, came out in 1975 and Bava died in 1980. Did you two stay in touch during that time? Any memories of last being in touch with Mario?
The production of Rabid Dogs came to halt...Bava refused to work with the US actor hired for the lead by Brayanston. The Italian Producer ran out of money. Joe Di Blase died of a heart attack in the toilet of his office ashamed to come out as all the creditors were ganging up on him and checks were being returned. Joe was broke and in serious trouble, a TERRIBLE END FOR A MAN OF HIS BACKGROUND. Bava approached me and asked me to purchase the film and complete it. I agreed to screen it WITH NO INTENTION WHATSOEVER TO BAIL IT OUT...I was delighted that it happened my thought was they and Bava deserve it after all I felt and was betrayed. Many times I would be approached from various people including Carlo Reale the editor to purchase and complete the film, I remained steadfast NO WAY. Once I walked into Salfa Palatino (a studio we shot in Rome) Bava was setting up a shot I had no knowledge that he was there Bava immediately announced stop a very dear friend has just walked in Bava came and embraced me. That should give you an idea the type of man he was several times would see him at the recording, editing facility and would greet one another have a cup of espresso in the commissary with him but we never socialized anymore. Eventually I closed my office in Rome. I had a personal tragedy my son became paralyzed in a accident in the US. For me Italy was not the same place.
15. Lastly, any final impressions on Bava as an artist and a person.
ANY MORE WITHOUT MY FRIEND MARIO BAVA. I MISS HIM DEARLY AND THINK OF HIM OFTEN... I shall volunteer some information other then your questions... I believe the real reason I purchased and completed KIDNAPPED is this film would have given Bava, what LISA did not as a result of HOUSE OF EXORCISM,. Kidnapped is a unique film shot and prepared by a genius and I am proud to have been involved from the very beginning and to bring it to completion. It is my way of repaying him.
Bava was one of the finest human beings I have had the pleasure of knowing his ego was the size of an apple seed his heart was as large as the universe. Gentle compassion and second to none in his profession. Thank you for the book and the privilege of sharing Mario Bava with your readers.
Troy Howarth is the author of THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA, a critical/analytical study of the cult filmmaker's directorial work. Interested parties are advised to check the FAB website at www.fabpress.com
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