Tony: "A Hole In The Head" was your first big screen film, what previous acting experience did you have at the time?
Eddie: I previously acted on Broadway in the "Music Man" and with Helen Hayes on the Omnibus production teleplay of "Mrs. McThing." There were other minor appearances on TV series and a command performance for President Eisenhower and the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court at the White House in Washington.
Tony: It must of been a thrill when you won the role of Alvin Manetta (Frank Sinatra's son), how did this come about?
Eddie: I was chosen to play Ally when Frank Sinatra and Frank Capra came to see "Music Man" in New York one night and came backstage. They talked with my father and contacted my agent at the William Morris Agency and arranged for me to begin filming the day after my last performance (#405) with the "Music Man" company. We flew all night to Miami Beach and began filming on location at the old Cordoza Hotel in South Beach the very next day!
Tony: "A Hole In The Head" was set & shot in Miami Florida, can you tell me a little bit about your experiences working in this location?
Eddie: We filmed my scenes at the South Beach location, including the exterior shots leading up to our singing "High Hopes" while sitting on the sea wall across the street there. They put my family and me up at the Fontainebleau Hotel, no less. My biggest problem was toning down my voice for the sound man - I was so used to projecting my voice "to the back of the house" on Broadway that I was too loud for the microphone! I also had a little problem with the bright arc lights: Frank Capra had me take vitamin E to help me tolerate the glare, though it helped very little (you can see me straining to keep my eyes open in the exterior shots). Frank Sinatra and the entire cast were so gracious and kind to me and my family!
Tony: How long did it take to complete the shoot? What time did you start work each morning?
Eddie: We were in Miami Beach for 2 or 3 weeks, think, then we all flew to Los Angeles and set up shop at Sam Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood. I really enjoyed that sound stage - they were filming "Porgy and Bess" on the stage next to us and I got to meet Sidney Portier and talk with him fairly often. Sammy Davis, Jr was around, too - what a wonderful man! He gave me a quick-draw gun and holster (tailored to fit me) with my name engraved in the leather. I met Dean Martin, too, but he was rather distant. We usually arrived on the set at 7:00 am for make-up and wardrobe, and began filming whenever the first shot of the day was set up. My stand-in was an actor who had appeared in "The Wizard of Oz," and we became very close. We must have filmed for about 6 weeks or more, I don't remember. The entire Garden of Eden Hotel was built on the soundstage along with some sand dunes and palm trees for scenes with Mr. Sinatra and Carolyn Jones. It was great working with Dub "Cannonball" Taylor and Ruby Dandridge.
Tony: How many hours per day were you on the set & was there much time allocated for rehearsals?
Eddie: The hours per day depended on what we were ready to shoot, and when Mr. Sinatra was available. We worked around his schedule sometimes - he was one of the producers, after all. Also, according to California Law, I had to go to school on set for 3 hour a day and a "welfare worker" was always at my side to make sure I was not overworked. The rehearsals took place on the set before each scene. Fortunately, I was good at remembering lines!
Tony: What was it like working with the legendary Frank Sinatra, did he ever bring his Oscar to the set ?
Eddie: Frank Sinatra was great to work with. He was thoughtful, playful and always ran my lines with me if I needed to. I later heard there was tension on the set, but I never knew it - I think they were very protective with me. Mr. Sinatra never brought his Oscar(s) to the set - he was not that kind of a man. He was very laid back, but professional. He got a little impatient with people at times, but never with me. He was a real gentleman and very warm.
Tony: You were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with acclaimed director Frank Capra, "A Hole In The Head" was one of Frank's last films, what was it like working with him?
Eddie: Frank Capra was a delightful human being. He gave me a very large family Bible and wrote in the front of it. Like someone said on the set, he was "as plain as an old shoe." He always treated me as equal to the other actors and never talked down to me: nether did anyone else. If anyone came close to being pejorative with me, they met with dire consequences from Mr. Capra, Mr. Sinatra or Eddie Robinson! Mr. Capra was a perfectionist and had so many creative suggestions for every scene. Sometimes, they seemed trivial, but every suggestion worked beautifully - it did not take us long to respect his every direction.
Tony: Do you have any funny stories to tell us about your other co-stars, Edward G. Robinson, Eleanor Parker, Carolyn Jones & Keenan Wynn?
Eddie: I have so many funny stories about the cast, I don't know where to begin. Eddie Robinson was an absolute riot to be around - soooo funny! Carolyn Jones was a cowgirl at heart - we had a wonderful time kidding with one another. Eleanor Parker was a real lady - kind of shy, but so very warm, open and creative as an actress and a person. I only got to meet Keenan Wynn once - he was also distant.
Tony: Performing the Academy Award winning song "High Hopes" with Frank Sinatra would have been an absolute highlight for you personally, what are some of your other favorite moments from the film?
Eddie: We learned the song, "High Hopes," on the set when Sammy Cahn (sp?) and Jimmy Van Heusen (sp?) came over and taught it to us using a stand-up piano that had been brought onto the set. We filmed the scene singing the song before we had completely learned it and made some mistakes, but had fun with it. I think Frank Capra must have planned it that way - he loved to keep takes with natural responses and accidents - he was a stickler for the "unplanned". Mr. Capra told me once, "there are no mistakes, don't worry, just be Ally and you'll be great." Needless to say, we didn't say all the lines exactly as they were written! I guess my most memorable moments were in the scene where Frank Sinatra slaps me. He refused to really slap me and said he we would have to work out a fake blow. I felt I needed some reality because it was a critical scene in the film and I wanted my reaction to carry some power (for me and the other actors, as well). I talked Frank Capra into agreeing with me and we convinced a reluctant Mr. Sinatra to do a real face slap. It worked beautifully! When the cameras stopped rolling, Mr. Sinatra grabbed me and held me for a long time. It was a very tender moment and I thought he would cry, so I thanked him for making me look good! We all laughed together, but he said he could not do it again. But we talked him into one more take for another angle! He was a very great man. He was very respectful towards me, even though I was a kid. There are too many favorite stories to recount here, but I really enjoyed falling out of the taxi cab, even though they cut that scene form the picture!
Tony: How long did it take to shoot the famous "High Hopes" musical sequence?
Eddie: We worked no more than an hour or so on the "High Hopes" sequence.
Tony: Where did the film premiere in Hollywood & who were some of the celebrities that attended?
Eddie: I cannot remember where the premiere was held, but the entire cast was there. I sat behind Carolyn Jones and Aaron Spelling, and joked around with Joi Lansing.
Tony: Did you attend the Academy Awards in 1960 when "High Hopes" won the Oscar for "Best Song"? Also, was the song performed live on the night? And, do you have any interesting stories to tell about the special night?
Eddie: I was too young to stay up so late for the Academy Awards and did not attend. I think I was back home in New York by that time, anyway.
Tony: On behalf of "Hollywood Teen Movies", thank you very much Eddie for giving us some further insight into this wonderful musical comedy.