Behind the Camera on ROMAN HOLIDAY
Though Audrey Hepburn admitted to being intimidated by the level of talent with which she was surrounded, she was a complete professional and everyone welcomed her. "Everyone on the set of Roman Holiday was in love with Audrey," said co-star Gregory Peck. "We did that one picture together, and I think it was the happiest experience I ever had on a movie set."
The unique experience of shooting on location in Rome inspired many of the cast and crew to bring along their families that summer. William Wyler brought his wife and daughters, Gregory Peck brought his wife and three boys, and Eddie Albert brought his wife and infant son along. "Working for Willy in Rome was nothing but joy," recalled Eddie Albert, who played Peck's photographer friend in the film. "It was a pity to take the fee."
The location shoot, though plagued with gawking tourists and paparazzi, heat and noise, turned out to be a tremendous asset to the picture. Inspired by shooting outdoors, Wyler used the ancient buildings and streets of Rome for an authentic and colorful backdrop to his romantic story. He took advantage of the city and made use of the sidewalk cafes, the Forum, Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and Boca Della Verita. He even had some of the Italian locals work as background extras. He was inspired by these locals to shoot a scene where Peck and Hepburn take an energetic ride around town on a Vespa, a French motor scooter that was the common mode of transportation in the city. It became one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.
Though Wyler generally liked to stick to the script, the location shooting allowed a great deal of room for spontaneity in order to take advantage of any wonderful new discoveries he happened to come across. "Filming in Rome in those days was marvelous," said Wyler. "There were practically no automobiles, only Vespas. For every scene I could have had six locations, and each one was better than the other." When he wasn't making use of the beautiful Roman outdoors, Wyler used the newly renovated Cinecitta studios to shoot interiors.
A good example of this spontaneity while shooting is the film's famous scene that takes place at the Boca Della Verita (Mouth of Truth), an ancient stone monument at the entrance of an old church. The legend of it said that if a liar put his hand inside the mouth, he would lose the hand. A truthful person, however, would have nothing to fear. Wyler said that he had gone sightseeing one day with his daughters to the monument and played a joke on them, sticking his hand into the mouth and pulling it out with his hand hidden under his sleeve. The joke terrified and delighted them. "So I thought there must be a place for this in the picture," said Wyler. "Especially since it's a story of two people who lie to each other."
Gregory Peck remembers the gag's origins differently, however. He stated that he was the one who suggested the trick to Wyler, which was an old comedy bit from Red Skelton. So, during the scene where Peck and Hepburn visit the Mouth of Truth, Peck decided to play the gag on Hepburn without warning her ahead of time. The ruse worked, and the camera forever immortalized Hepburn's genuine shock, just before she dissolves into fits of laughter.
This spontaneity meant that the final script was always somewhat of a work in progress. Ian McLellan Hunter, who had fronted for original writer Dalton Trumbo, had worked on rewrites of the screenplay when Frank Capra owned the property. Once William Wyler took over the project, however, Trumbo had no further direct involvement on the script. Wyler instead hired a British writer named John Dighton to come on location to work on the screenplay. "We had Dighton in Rome with us all the time," recalled the editor of Roman Holiday, Bob Swink. "He was writing new scenes, new lines, whatever it took. The picture was kind of put together as it went along."
After Roman Holiday was well under way, Wyler supposedly regretted his decision to shoot the film in black and white and considered switching to color stock at the last minute. "I tried to switch," Wyler was later quoted, "but in those days, making pictures in color was unusual. I would have needed new filmstock, had to fly exposed film every day to London, and reorganize the production. It was just too late." Other sources contend, however, that Wyler always wanted to shoot the film in color, but budget restrictions imposed by Paramount prevented him the indulgence.
As filming went on, it became more and more clear to everyone involved that Roman Holiday was going to make Audrey Hepburn a huge star. There was even talk that she might win an Academy Award. Paramount's publicity machine kicked in before Roman Holiday was even completed to start promoting their beautiful new screen discovery.
by Andrea Passafiume