"This is the world's greatest picture from the world's greatest book," says the reigning flack, as he watches 3,500 body-tanned extras toiling with baskets of plastic bricks up the staircases and setbacks of the Tower of Babel on the set south of Rome. "Here," says the associate producer, "you have the first love story, the first sin, the first murder, the first boat and the first skyscraper." "All these fantastic stories," marvels the prime mover of all, Italian Producer Dino de Laurentiis, "it would be incredible if it weren't the Bible."
It is the Bible, and all the more incredible for being so. When De Laurentiis first embarked on his epic, he envisioned a ten-hour film, costing $25 million and depicting nearly all the still waters and flaming furnaces, from Creation to Gethsemane. When he actually started shooting the picture in Rome last May, he had boiled it down to a mere three-hour, $15 million Technicolor frieze of episodes from Genesis 1-22, with Christopher Fry writing the script and a cast of a dozen stars, including Ava Gardner, as the Mother of the Jews, and John Huston, who plays Noah and also directs the film.
Floating Zoo. Last week Huston was functioning furiously in both guises. As Noah, with a full grey beard and wearing a coarse beige tunic, he was striding up and down the gangplank of the $300,000 ark made of roughhewn logs. As director, he moved inside the 200-ft.-long, 60-ft.-high arkone of five to be used in the filmto supervise 200 animals that had been brought down over the Alps from Althoffs Circus and were undergoing their first try at bedding down.
The din below decks was strident.
Two honey bears started fighting and stampeded the camels, tethered opposite the elephants. Noah's son Japheth, played by one of Althoff's animal trainers, was using baby talk to soothe a pair of lions and Siberian tigers in their glassed-in cages. Elsewhere in the hold, zebras nipped, sheep bleated, yaks grunted and Watusi bulls bellowed. But the real test is yet to come. This week the whole zoo, accompanied by some 1,000 birds, will make its way up the gangplank, two by two. "My God," groaned Huston, "how the hell did Noah do it?"
Two Eves. Adam talks hip, and can only be photographed from one side because of his coinlike vaccination mark.
Eve was originally a languorous Italian brunette, but De Laurentiis promoted an international newspaper straw vote to find out whether the world thought of Eve as blonde or dark, and a few thousand Western Europeans in effect declared that they could not see how the mother of mankind could have come from any place east of Sweden. Eve is now a Swedish girl named Ulla Bergryd who has been accustomed to stalking about in only long tresses while paparazzi keep leaping out of the foliage to take her picture. Huston has decided that there will be no fig leaves after the Fall. He said he tried aprons of fig leaves but "they looked too much like G strings." Instead, Adam and Eve will clutch whole branches of vine leaves to hide their nakedness.