Those who are familiar with Sam Peckinpah’s films will likely also be familiar
with the name Katy Haber. During the production of Straw Dogs, for which she was
hired as his personal assistant, Ms. Haber and Sam would begin a seven year
relationship on a personal as well as professional level. Ms. Haber worked with
Sam on all of his films from Straw Dogs through Convoy. In the years following
her work with Sam, Ms. Haber’s Production Executive credits have included Blade
Runner (1982) and At Close Range (1986). She is presently serving as Managing
Director of BAFTA-LA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts-Los Angeles).
Ms. Haber was kind enough to answers some questions I recently presented
regarding her work with Sam:
Sam reportedly was quite good at getting inside the head of an actor/actress in
order to prepare them for their role. Do you recall any specific incidences of
this during the filming of Straw Dogs?
K.H.: It was not a question of being "quite good" at getting inside heads, Sam
would resort to any means necessary to get the desired performance. During the
scene pursuant to the rape when Amy has to go the village hall, Sam took Susan
George aside just before he rolled camera and said to her "Your father is not as
young as he used to be and not too well, he might not even live to see the
release of this film". As poor Susan absorbed the information and started to cry
Sam rolled Camera and said "action".
Dustin told Sam that controlling laughter helped him portray anger, or any other
intense emotion. So he would ask Sam to try and make him laugh in some of the
most intense moments in Straw Dogs, and it always proved successful.
Unfortunately Dustin would do it to the other actors who did not appreciate his
antics. On one of his off camera entrances into the village pub when Del Henney
and Ken Hutchison were in the bar, Dustin came in without his pants on. Del
Henney, an intense actor to say the least was definitely not amused.
I don’t know if you call it preparing for a role, but Sam invited the male cast
of Straw Dogs for a pre-shoot male bonding party. TP McKenna, Peter Vaughan, Ken
Hutchison, Del Henney and Jim Norton were all invited by Sam to a private
dinner. During the course of evening TP fell and broke his arm, which is why he
plays the whole of Straw Dogs with his arm in a sling.
Considering how young you were at the time, what was it like to find yourself
suddenly involved in the motion picture industry and working alongside
superstars the caliber of Dustin Hoffman, and later, Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw
K.H.: Straw Dogs was not the first picture I had worked on. I had worked on a
number of productions including a picture in 1968 with David Niven and Deborah
Kerr with director Ronald Neame, so I was not new to the world of "stars". What
was new to me was working with someone like Sam Peckinpah who came from a whole
different world, with different values and a different upbringing to mine. It
was so alien to me it was like East meets West. I was a middle class girl from a
middle European background thrown into the world of the Wild West - especially
Junior Bonner. That was definitely an adjustment.
I get the impression that Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid was something of a tribute
to the Western genre by Sam, and possibly even a farewell. What personal
significance do you think the film held for Sam?
K.H.: Pat Garrett started off as a tribute to the Western Genre you are right,
but the total experience was so filled with turmoil, discontent and subterfuge
that it overclouded the original joy of making the film. His constant battles
with Dan Melnick, James Aubrey, Lew Rachmil and the powers that be through the
filming and the editorial stages became the overriding element. Sam's final
statement in the film where he is building the coffin tells it all. While Sam
was cutting his version of the film MGM were in the next editorial rooms cutting
theirs. All the allegoric and lyrical segments were cut from the film only to
re-appear in the directors cut a few years later. That print was hidden in Sam’s
fridge without the sound for the longest time and is why the directors cut is
around today. I still think it is one of his best even with so much of his
version removed from the film.
Considering the rather tight budget and difficult location shooting, Sam
produced an absolutely brilliant film in Cross of Iron. How did you, Sam, and
the rest of the production team do such an outstanding job of adjusting to the
continually shrinking budget during filming?
K.H.: We cheated a lot. We were promised 30 German tanks we were given 3. So the
tanks had to do an extremely fast turnaround. We had to use the Yugoslav army as
extras most of whom had never even seen a movie camera. If you look closely many
of the soldiers are smiling as they run past camera. One of the classic examples
of cutting the budget was that Wolf Hartwig had made such a tight fisted deal
with the Yugoslav production team, that when Sam called for the actors to be
marked for camera the crew had no hammers and nails because they were not listed
in the grip package. Somehow we made it.
I understand that Sam greatly admired the Italian director Federico Fellini. Do
you recall if Sam had any opinions on Sergio Leone’s films, or the Italian
Spaghetti Western genre in general? I understand that Sam and Sergio met briefly
during the filming of Monte Hellman’s China 9 Liberty 37, but I’ve yet to read
any details of the incident.
K.H.: I was not around for the Sergio Leone encounter but I was there when he
met Fellini. We were shooting Cross of Iron in Yugoslavia, and James Coburn, Sam
and I decided to spend one weekend in Venice to get away from the burning tires,
dust and dirt of the trenches. On one morning James and I decided to go shopping
leaving Sam asleep in his room. When James and I got to the lobby, there
standing in all his glory in a cloak and fedora was Federico Fellini. Coburn and
Fellini embraced and I was introduced. I asked Mr. Fellini if he would do me a
giant favour. He graciously accepted. I took him upstairs and knocked on Sam's
door. "What" grunted a grumpy Sam, "What the hell do you want". I opened the
door and led Fellini in. Sam was asleep on top of his bed the room in disarray.
He opened his eyes stared for a very long moment and said "Ohhhhhhhhhhh Shit".
"Mr. Fellini" says I "May I introduce Sam Peckinpah". The two embraced and I
left the room as Federico Fellini sat down by the bed of Sam Peckinpah. James
Coburn and I spent a lengthy morning shopping and eating. When we returned to
the hotel and went up to Sam's room. The two great directors were just in the
same place as we had left them. I am sure it would make a wonderful short film.
Would there have been some of his movies Sam felt might need re-touching?
K.H.: I know that he would have liked to recut Major Dundee, Pat Garrett and
Convoy. All three were radically tampered with by the producers and the studios
and Sam was left extremely dissatisfied.