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The Longest Day

Cigar-chomping Darryl Zanuck re-created one of history's most momentous events on the beaches of Normandy.
Fred Hift
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

(continued from page 2)

One of the most vexing casting problems in The Longest Day was the role of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Zanuck respected screenplay writer Connie Ryan, but didn't like him very much. One day, he instructed us to enthusiastically greet an announcement he was to make at the weekly staff meeting. The day came, and Zanuck, puffing contentedly on his cigar, said: "Gentlemen, I have decided who will play Ike. The actor I have chosen is Mickey Rooney." Applause all 'round. Ryan, a stickler for details--he was forever arguing with Zanuck about uniform buttons and who was marching where and in what direction--sat in shock.

"What's the matter, Connie? You aren't agreeing with me again?" Zanuck grinned. And then Ryan knew that his leg had been pulled.

The actor who played Eisenhower was Henry Grace, a set de-signer at MGM Studios, who bore a truly uncanny likeness to the supreme commander and who, just walking the studio streets, was frequently mistaken for him.

Filming the great invasion with the kind of realism demanded by Zanuck required all kinds of sacrifices. During the real thing, seasick GIs poured out of landing craft that frequently had been blown off course, so that they came to shore in deep water. The soldiers attempted to wade ashore, but hundreds never made it, drowning under the weight of their heavy packs.

Zanuck's troops were luckier, of course, but they, too, encountered hardships, rough seas and accidents.

I recall standing on Sword Beach, one of the British landing areas. Next to me, clearly in pain, stood a tall Tommy decked out in full gear. He explained that he had turned his ankle coming off one of the boats during the last shot and he was worried about the next take.

"I've got to be in it," he said, his voice betraying his Scottish background. "I've just got to be!"

"You'll be OK," I assured him. "What's your name?"

"Sean Connery," he replied and limped off.


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