BetteBack: For The Boys Send Peace Message

Rydell sends peace message `For the Boys
Article from:Chicago Sun-Times Article date:December 6, 1991 Author: Candace Burke-Block

Director Mark Rydell is a friendly, spontaneous guy-next-door type who says his work is fueled purely by instinct and passion.

“I search for material that reaches down into my subconscious in some way,” he says, sitting in his Los Angeles office.

“To commit to doing something that will take two years from start to finish, I have to be very deeply involved. I have to be in love with the project.”

Rydell’s latest love is “For the Boys,” a musical comedy/drama starring Bette Midler and James Caan. It is now playing at local theaters.

The movie tells the story of Eddie Sparks (Caan) and Dixie Leonard (Midler), two USO performers who entertain the troops from World War II through the Vietnam War. The drama of their personal lives is played out against the backdrop of a world in turmoil.

The film reunites Rydell with both stars. He directed Midler in “The Rose” (1979) and Caan in “Cinderella Liberty” (1973) and “Harry and Walter Go to New York” (1976).

His other films include “The Reivers” (1969), the Oscar-winning “On Golden Pond” (1981) and “The River” (1984).

A jazz pianist-turned-actor-turned-director, Rydell, 60, still takes the occasional film role. He played the hoodlum in Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” (1973), the unctuous nightclub owner in “Punchline” (1988) and the mobster Meyer Lansky in Sydney Pollack’s “Havana” (1990).

But “director” is clearly his title of choice.

“I take the responsibility of directing quite seriously,” he says.

“In what other profession can you take people all over the world, put them in a dark room and talk to them for two hours and tell them how you feel about life and have a chance to maybe illuminate the truth about some things?

“You have a chance to speak to so many people and do it in a way that reaches to them not only through their heads, but through their hearts. So film is not so much a weapon, but an opportunity to make things better.”

Midler brought the script of “For the Boys” to him originally.

“It’s a story that’s very high-concept, but I began to see the possibilities of being able to tell an interesting love story, a backstage kind of love story against a tapestry of America during a 50-year period,” Rydell says.

“(World War II) was kind of a romantic war. I don’t mean that blood wasn’t shed and people were not injured in the same way, but there was no ambivalence about the war. . . . The ideas were clear – the enemy was fascism, Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini.”

Rydell says the film also shows – through Midler’s character – how women, particularly, respond to war.

He is a huge fan and friend of the actress, whom he describes as “one of the major talents that we have. She’s brilliant in this picture and I hope it will reinstate her revoked license as an actress.

“She delivers herself to me, and I think that what we’ve gotten from her in this picture will be startling to everybody.”

Rydell’s ability to elicit strong performances from his actors is due, perhaps, to his strong paternal quality.

“I’m attracted to the role of Daddy,” he says. “And the director is essentially the father of the material.”

A devoted father in real life, Rydell has three children – Christopher, 28, Amy, 20 and Alexander, 5.

Christopher, an actor in his own right, stars as Midler’s son in the film and Amy plays a dancer. Rydell’s second wife Esther also has a role, but she won’t allow Alexander to act just yet.

“Nepotism has no bounds,” Rydell says. “But I wouldn’t use my family if they weren’t the best choices.

“When I came to Bette and said my son should play the role I showed her a (television) `Afternoon Special’ for which he has been nominated for an Emmy.”

Being the leader has always appealed to Rydell.

“When I was a musician, I wanted to be a conductor,” he says. “Then when I became an actor I always wanted to be a director. One of the attractions I guess is that you are leading a virtuoso in every department.”

After “For The Boys” opens across the United States, Rydell will vacation with his family in the Caribbean. Then he will head off to Europe to oversee the translation of the film into various languages.

“I always supervise the various European versions of the film,” he says. “I know that very few directors do that, but I want to make sure that the picture is not lost in some foolish translation.”

Rydell describes his next project, as yet untitled, as “a grown-up love story about a man who is torn between a wife and child and his mistress.”

He says his non-stop, hands-on attitude toward his work is rewarding, but difficult.

“I’ve been called a perfectionist and I am obsessive about excellence, but you pay a penalty for that,” he says.

“I don’t think you sleep as well. You worry about a lot of things that other people can let go. You feel obsessed.

“You have to learn to surround yourself with people you trust, who are talented, and then you have to be able to let go of things. To delegate – that’s the mark of a secure human being.

“It’s hard for me, but I am doing it. I’m growing up, ultimately.”

For the time being, Rydell hopes “For the Boys” will come across as a strong anti-war film.

“(It) ultimately examines the values of human life,” he says. “At its core is the premise that any armed conflict is by nature lunatic.

“To shoot somebody with a piece of metal and let it rip through their body, to really see that makes you wonder what is our future as human beings. If we keep doing that then perhaps we don’t have a future.

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