March 28, 2014
My not-so-distant relative the film producer Pandro S. Berman wanted to make a quick exploration film for MGM regarding the upcoming “Beat” scene that was happening at that time. He just finished the production work for the Elvis Presley starring “Jailhouse Rock” and was interested in doing a film where Elvis played a ‘beatnik poet. ' For research, Elvis actually went to City Lights bookstore to pick up on the vibe of the store as well as the local North Beach scene. He made an effort to get a job at City Lights as a book clerk, but that obviously wasn’t going to work out. There was also talk of Berman producing a film version of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On The Road, ” with Elvis playing “Dean Moriarty” and British actor Dirk Bogarde playing Salvatore “Sal” Paradise, the novel’s narrator.
Bogarde flew out of London to meet Elvis in San Francisco. At the time Elvis never drank, but still, he met Dirk at the bar Vesuvio, that was practically next door to City Lights. Dirk just wanted to talk to Elvis personally without any managers around or studio people. He had very little knowledge of the beats, and basically his understanding of that scene, for him, came from his knowledge regarding the Teddy Boys. He knew and heard of the existentialist scene in Paris that was occurring at the time, but the beats were a totally foreign concept to him. But he desperately wanted to make changes to his image from teen idol to a serious actor. There was a darker side to Bogarde, and he felt he needed to express that side more. But wasn’t sure how, and on top of that he was getting frustrated with the studios back in the U.K. He felt that this could be the role for him to change everything. Also he had a great admiration for Elvis. He didn’t really understand the music, or that type of culture, but he saw something that was sincere and raw in Elvis’ approach to music and image.
Elvis was a truck driver before singer, and he could identify with Dean with respect to his natural energy to go out and get going. Also in his mind, the name “Dean’ relates to his favorite actor James Dean. He was aware that his films were kind of lightweight, compared to the world of James Dean, and he wanted an ‘in’ as much as Dirk did. Bogarde ordered himself a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, thinking it was very American type of thing to order in a San Francisco bar, and Elvis, being Elvis, ordered a bottle of Coke. They went together to City Lights and they each bought a copy of “On The Road, ” and looked and commented on each page of that novel over their beer and coke.
Sitting in the bar, in one of its small tables, Dirk was all of sudden taken back by him being there with the actual iconic Elvis, discussing what they both felt was an iconic novel that surely can be a film vehicle for the both of them. With the help of Berman, they couldn’t possibly imagine this to be a failure. Nevertheless, history has a way of by-passing moments like these for something that eventually will not be important. And who knew at this point and time, that Dirk Bogarde would enter a second chance in the Briitsh film world as one of its most amazing actors.