Lawrence Montaigne....

Lawrence Montaigne

Hi Don:

 Your web site bring back memories since I spent five months, every day, on site for the shooting of the GE.  I've always thought it would be great to have a reunion of the cast but unfortunately, most of them have passed on.  You mention that Steve did the jump of the barbed wire fence but that is not exactly correct.  Steve did all of his own motorcycle riding, right up to the place where it appears he jumped the fence.  That's when his double, Bud Ekins, took over and did the actual jump.  No big deal but credit where credit is due.  But I was on site for the scenes with Donald and James from the plane crash to the killing of Donald.

I have tried to figure out where you are located.  It is very commendable that you undertake to keep alive the history of the making of the film since it is such a great cinematic experience.  If you get a chance to read my book, A Vulcan Odyssey, I cover a great deal of the making of the film from the time we all arrived at Gaselgasteig on May 5, 1962 until we wrapped five months later in Fussen. 

 We would sure like to join you for your get-together to commemorate the making of the film but I doubt that there are enough of us left to fill a small table at IHop. 

Best of luck on your venture. 

 Lawrence

 

Well Don,                                                           

I have finally taken the time to cover all the pages on your site.  First, forgive me for assuming that you did not give credit to Bud Ekins for doing the jump for Steve.  I finally found all the information included in the fence sequence.  I later worked with Bud up in Carmel, California, on the Disney film, Escape to Witch Mountain.  It was Bud who encouraged me to write a motorcycle film for Steve called, Cyclone 25.  Unfortunately, Steve died while I was spending time rewriting the script and we never did get it off the ground.

 
As for your page on TGE, it is a mind-blower...so much that you have covered that I couldn't take it all in.  I plan to do a little bit every day until I've seen everything.  I have some photos you might want to view if you go to my web site:  www.lawrencemontaigne.com
 
There is a hyperlink called The Great Escape with a number of photos you might want to use.  Check it out.  I'm sure we'll be in touch.  Best.  Lawrence

 

From left to right:
John Sturges (director), Charles Bronson, John Leyton, James Coburn, and Lawrence Montaigne as Haynes.

Click on photograph above to visit Lawrence Montaigne's website....

 

 Lawrence Montaigne "...had found a house in (Morgenroth Strasse) Bogenhausen, a lovely residential community on the other side of the English Gardens and across the Isar River." (page 144)

 

"There was a nightclub in Schwabing where many of the actors and stuntmen would hang out. An Israeli ran it by the name of Mario and he was a bull of a man." (page 148)

 

"The last four weeks of shooting were a distant location outside of Munich....and took off for the village of Fussen, some two hours drive from home....The beauty of Fussen was like stepping through Alice's looking glass into a Disney world. There were two magnificient castles situated on opposite mountains in a valley....Our room was in a Gasthaus that overlooked a river on one side and the castles on the other. (149-150).

 

Hi Don:
 My God, but I wish I could answer more of your questions but you give me too much credit.  My memory fails with much of the incidents that transpired.  I thought some of the recollections from my book might have helped but I guess not. 
 I do remember that the Camp was situated on the left hand side road coming in from the studio.  Remember, I had just finished a film, Captain Sindbad, at that studio so the forest to the back lot of the studio had been decimated so they could build the compound and the camp.  As for the names of towns in and around the area, they are long ago forgotten.
 What scenes was I in down in Fussen?  To be quite candid, the only scenes I remember were the ones where they took us out in the truck and executed us.  I do remember standing around for weeks on end with nothing to do but watch the scenes with Steve, James and Donald.
 What was Steve like with the cast?  That is something of an unfair question because Steve and I got along quite well since I owned an Opel Station Wagon that accommodated three go-carts and when we had time off, Steve, James and I would load our go-carts into the Opel and head out for the go-cart track not far from the studio.  My intro to Steve was friendly because his wife and I studied ballet together at Carnagie Hall in New York.  And Steve and I had something of a bond because he and I were both in boot camp in the Marine Corp only one platoon apart.  I can't account for his relationship with other members of the cast.
 Don, I wish I could help you spread the word about the anniversary of TGE but I am no longer in touch with members of the cast.  I wish there was some way I could help you to spread the word about your venture but in truth, I am living in a vacuum with little or no contact with the public at large.  But I do wish you the best of luck and we shall be with you in spirit comes August.
 
Lawrence

Question 1) -

The tunnel filming. Correct me if I'm wrong, the interiors which I believe were filmed in Munich, were where the underground bit of the tunnel were built: - the entrance bit, the passing areas, and the bit just below the exit. Also I guess this is where the entrance bit inside the hut was built (were James Coburn and then William Russell sat checking names off as the POWs entered the tunnel). Now (and this is my guess), i'm assuming that the tunnel entrance did not lead to a tunnel, but to a space big enough for you actors to hide in while the sequences were shot. I'm guessing too that where the tunnel comes up near the tree line was filmed in Bavaria, with again just a space below the "hole" just big enough for you to hide. Thus meaning that the tunnel was in fact several different sets? 
   
Answer - You are correct. We shoot scenes out of context, different locations, and then the editor puts them together to make it look as if it was done in sequence. 


Question 2) -

Also do you recall how long a section of tunnel was built? If this is all different from what I guess perhaps you can tell me. 

Answer - The tunnel was almost as long as the sound stage, I guess about fifty to seventy-five feet. One side was open so the camera could follow the action as the actors made their way through the tunnel. 

Question 3) -

Was the prison bit where Nigel Stock (Cavendish) comes in after he is interrogated by the Gestapo and talks to you a set, or an actual building somewhere? - it looks very real!!! 

Answer - It was most definitely a set. 

Question 4) -

It appears in the film as though Haynes and Nimmo (Tom Adams) are supposed to be friends, was this true in reality? 

Answer - Tom and I were supposed to be a twosome but as the film progressed, that concept was never developed. And of course, I escaped and Tom never did. We never did develop a friendship outside the studio. 

Question 5) -

Also was there a feeling amongst the supporting cast - you Tom Adams, William Russell, Robert Desmond (who played Griff the Tailor, and of whom I can find no mention of after 1965!!!), Judd Taylor and Angus Lennie of unity, or did the whole cast from McQueen down get along well. I read that John Sturges always chose as good a supporting cast as he did stars for his films. Personally I think its the supporting cast that make the film so special. 
  
Answer - Fortunately, everyone got along on the set. In the beginning, the Brits stayed among themselves, as did the Germans and the American. But we were in that camp for four months before moving onto location so it was natural that the barriers were dropped after a few days. Unlike most films, the A.D. did not let us stay home when we were not scheduled to shoot. We had to be on the set six days a week for the entire shoot because Sturges wanted the actors there in case he was inspired to use us in a scene or in the background. 

Question 6 -

In researching the Battle of Britain film, I found out that the German actors did not socialise with the British actors. Did the actors playing guards, ferrets etc socialise with you POWs or did you keep seperate during filming? 

Answer - See above. 

Question 7) -

It appears on film that a whole replica camp was built, do you recall if it was complete with 4 fenced sides and complete huts, or was it half a set, with flat 2D huts etc in the background? 

Answer - The area where the camp was built was actually a dense forest behind the studio which was leveled to build the camp. The huts were complete on all sides as was the barbed wire fence around the entire camp. This gave the director the ability to shoot from any angle without having to cheat. 

Question 8) -

Another thing, I heard from Angus Lennie, is that as he recalled for the filming in the camp, none of you were told whether upon escaping whether your character would be captured, killed or escape. Was this true?. 

Answer - My guess is that Angus left filming half way through as his character was killed, climbing over the wire, and perhaps he didn't know what was happening, but that the script was finished. One week into the shooting, Steve decided he didn't like his role in the script and we shut down for a week while a writer came in from California to rectify his grievance. At that time, I had signed a contract for only five weeks since in the original script I didn't escape. But when the revisions came down, much to my surprise, I got out of the camp as a German soldier (probably because I speak the language) and eventually I ran nineteen weeks on the shoot. 

Question 9) -

An odd question this, don't answer it if you don't want to. It is rumoured that there was a very bad feeling on set between David McCallum and Charles Bronson, due to the entanglement over Jill Ireland. The fact that in only the scene where Big X talks to all the principle characters, do Bronson and McCallum appear together on screen may back this up? 

Answer - Charlie and I go back to the early fifties when we did a film called Bloodhounds of Broadway at Fox. Also, I had my kid sister, fourteen at the time, and Sturges' daughter, the same age, on the set almost every day. Charlie was a self appointed baby-sitter, telling the kids stories, playing games with them and keeping them amused. If there was any friction between Charlie and David, I didn't get it. David's marriage was on the rock when he arrived in Munich. Jill and Charlie took up a friendship on the set that no one questioned because of the environment we were in. In fact, Jill was a very friendly person and chatted and socialized with almost all the people on the set. Friction? Not from where I was standing. 

Question 10) -

In a British TV interview with James Coburn, he said that all the actors were invited to a dinner with the real Stalag Luft III escapers, and that you were all made honorary members of the real Escape association, and were given a tie each with a barbed wire motif - did you get one? 

Answer - Someone owes me a friggen tie and dinner! 

Question 11) -

Were the indoor or outdoor scenes shot first? 

Answer - We jumped around according to the weather. Nice days we worked outdoors and when it clouded over (which it does quite often in Munich) we went indoors. 

Question 12) -

Did you all hang around and watch all the scenes being filmed, or were you employed for different lengths of time. I'm wondering if you got to witness any of the motorbike sequence being filmed!! 

Answer - As I said before, while in the camp we were required to be on the set every day. When we moved to Fussen, those who escaped were again required to be on the set every day. I was with Richard Attenborough the morning they shot the motorcycle jump that stuntman, Bud Ekins, did so professionally. 

Question 13 -

One last thing, did you have an idea at the time of just how big a film The Great Escape was going to be, and just how hugely popular it is still, or was it just another job? I understaand too, that you appeared in a few episodes of Hogan's Heroes, do you think your Great Escape pedigree was part of the reason they chose you for the series? 

Answer - I only did one episode of Hogan's Heroes and in that I played a German. I doubt anyone on HH gave a rat's ass whether or not I appeared in The Great Escape. 
Did I think The Great Escape was going to be destined for greatness? To be honest, I'd been living in Europe for the past six years. I didn't know most of the American actors with whom we were working. I knew ****ie, and Donald, and James; all English. Hannes Messemer was a close friend of my German wife. And Judd Taylor and I appeared in a production of Mr. Roberts at the Player's Ring Theatre in Hollywood back in 1951. 
  
I guess people more astute than I could have predicted the popularity and longevity that The Great Escape enjoys today. Me? I was as happy as a clam to be working with so many greats. 

Question 14) -

Do you have any other particular memories, anecdotes or funny stories from filming? 

Answer - Yeah, but I doubt that you're gonna live long enough for me to tell them all to you. The experience of doing The Great Escape was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an actor. I've always said that every actor should have a Great Escape in his resume. Sturges was a cinematic master and I learned much from him. Gene Ruggiero was the editor and although he cut out some of my very best scenes, he made that film tick. Bernstein's music was masterful. And what can I say about the acting? You're right; the secondary parts were as important as the principles and there wasn't a lapse or dull moment in the entire three hours.

 

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