Best advice I ever got

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Early in my career, I became friends with a man named Samuel Bronston. Sam was an old-school Hollywood producer--short, built like a fireplug, who smoked ridiculously expensive cigars and wore lavish Italian suits. He had produced KING OF KINGS, EL CID, FIFTY-FIVE DAYS AT PEKING, CIRCUS WORLD (with John Wayne), THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, plus many, many other blockbuster movies.

He was born in Russia, educated at the Sorbonne, and was the nephew of Leon Trotsky. Quite a pedigree. When I met him he had been through some financial difficulties and was trying to make a comeback by producing a film on Isabella of Spain. I was a young guy just starting my career, a wannabe director, and he was kind enough to share some great stories with me.

One of these stories concerned Sophia Loren. He adored her, and when possible hired her and Charlton Heston to star in his films. He and Sophia used to play chess together in the evenings, and Sam said he would always let her win. After all, a good producer never angered his star. One day, however, she complained, saying she could never trust anyone who cheated--even to lose. Sam said that from then on he did his best to win, but she still beat him! It was, in his words, a humbling experience.

The last time Sam and I had dinner I asked him if he had any advice for a young director at the beginning of his career and he thought long and hard about my question while puffing on his huge cigar. Finally, he took it out, pointed it at me, and said with his gravelly voice, "Never trust a stuntman with a limp or a special effects guy with only one hand."

It was the best advice I ever received.