Director Fritz Lang is widely known for many enjoyable films of the studio era, among them Hangmen Also Die (1943), Ministry of Fear (1944) and The Big Heat (1953).  Most people are not aware that he was also recognized as one of the nastiest characters in Hollywood.

            Feelings against him took hold from the start.  Witness the crew’s response to Lang’s interpersonal skills on his first feature, Fury (1936).  They reportedly conspired to rig a 10K to fall on him from the greenbed.  When Producer Joe Mankiewicz crushed the plot, his rotten behavior carried on unabated.  He treated cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, ASC so badly that the film’s star, Spencer Tracy, told Ruttenberg, “You son of a bitch, if you don’t kick him in the balls, I’ll kill you.”

            Can you imagine a director – indeed, anyone connected to a production – treating people in that fashion today?  Not very likely.  Thin skins are in.  So are aggressively proactive HR departments.  Lang and his ilk wouldn’t last a minute on a modern set, and if that represents progress, well, we’ve come quite a distance.

            While I always treat my fellow crewmembers with respect, the rare instance of abuse from above has always landed on me like water off a duck’s back.  And though I’ve

never kicked any of them in the balls, that shouldn’t embolden future pretenders to the Hall of Shame.

            To my mind, a rear naked choke is always the better way to go…



  1. This story was told to me by Harry Redmond Jr who worked with James Wong Howe, ASC. Mr Howe owned his Mitchel NC and was very protective of it. On lunch breaks he instructed the grip department to hoist the camera up to the perms so no body would mess with it. Apparently, he was such an asshole to the crew on a daily basis that they decided to enact a little revenge. They built an exact wooden replica of his camera and pulled up out of sight. When everyone returned from lunch, the rope was cut, the fake camera exploded on the stage floor to the great consternation of Mr. Howe. All reports suggest he was a much more pleasant and understanding boss after this incident.

  2. Russ – that’s hilarious! And so typical of what used to go on in the old days. Among the many things we’ve lost over the years on the job, a sense of humor is the most sorely missed one.

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