• Being in Harold and Maude

    By Vivian Pickles

    Pickles_current_large

    I?have John Schlesinger to thank for my role in Harold and Maude. I’d been in Sunday Bloody Sunday for John. He had given Hal Ashby my name to look up when Hal was interviewing all the famous English dames in a penthouse suite at the top of London’s Dorchester Hotel. The dames were all very much up for Maude. It’s a wonderful part, and they were all so keen for it. After the interview, Hal decided to play Maude as American and Mrs. Chasen as English-American.

    Harold and Maude is the only job I’ve done where I haven’t wanted to change something after I’ve seen it. Hal was so inspiring, with a most wonderful, genuine, appreciative smile of warm approval that spurred you on. He really loved my ideas—particularly for my favorite scene, where Mrs. Chasen fills out the application form for her son’s dating service. Bud Cort and I worked so well together on the film because we had very different styles and approaches as actors. Bud, like so many young American actors of the day, was very influenced by the Method, all that warming up and getting into the role, which is not my way at all—I find it very alienating—but it was right for him and it was right for the character and right for the scene. The difference in the styles works beautifully.

    That scene was filmed in a house in San Francisco belonging to the editor of a major newspaper. A marvelous place. We only had it for a week. And we had to work very hard to finish everything in that week. And we did get it done. Hal’s editor side gave his director side a shortcut. I had brought some of my own clothes over from England, which we had altered, and, in the week before shooting began, I shopped endlessly for the rest with the costume designer, Bill Theiss. He was spot-on. Bill made the hat I?wear in the scene, and he kindly raided his mother’s jewelry box to borrow antique jewelry for Mrs. Chasen. I worked closely with Cathy Blondell to design the hairstyles, some of which she used again on Julie Christie when she did Shampoo for Hal. Every member of the Harold and Maude production team was perfect—Bud, Bill, Cathy—but Hal Ashby and Cat Stevens were giants. I?am so very, very privileged to have worked with them.

    London, April 2012

8 comments

  • By Marc Edward Heuck
    June 20, 2012
    04:41 PM

    This is wonderful. I was always curious about Ms. Pickles and wanted for years to hear her tell her part of the story in regards to this film and her fine comic performance. I wish there were more than just a short essay, it would have been nice to have a video interview with her on the new DVD release. But this will do just fine. Thanks for going the extra step, Criterion!
    Reply
  • By MA
    June 20, 2012
    07:59 PM

    Excellent! Thanks!
    Reply
  • By Shaun
    June 21, 2012
    03:52 AM

    I also love Ruth Gordon in those Clint Eastwood movies - you know, the ones with Clyde. Right hook Clyde!!
    Reply
  • By Sidney
    June 21, 2012
    06:06 PM

    Great interview.
    Reply
  • By Glen Barnham
    July 16, 2012
    05:49 AM

    Vivian Pickles a genuinely great actress and a lovely human being.
    Reply
  • By Claire Baker
    August 19, 2012
    12:08 AM

    Vivian was perfection as Harold's mother! I was so enamoured of the film and the two main characters, and still she manages to almost steal the movie! Very subtle, an eyebrow arch, a pursed lip, intuitive acting on her part, a commanding presence on screen. Kind of a 30's style, all slinky and feline.... hats off! Just read that she was also Lady Montdore in a BBC version of Love in a Cold Climate, oh dear, how I would love to see that!!! "One" must see it! And as Mrs. Bennet in a BBC 1967 version of "Pride and Prejudice", how delish! When am I to see these gems, how?
    Reply
  • By Edward Gielty
    September 27, 2012
    05:48 PM

    A wonderful scene from this offbeat and hilarious film. I love the way Harold's mother fills in all the questions for him and her only mildly exasperated reaction to his mock suicide! Interesting to hear of Vivian Pickles's preparation and wardrobe work for the week of shooting. What a classy lady on and off the screen. Like the first reviewer I wish a longer and televised version of these kind of interviews would accompany the latest DVD issue. Great to have this though.
    Reply
  • By loveart
    October 29, 2014
    03:41 PM

    This is one of the rare movies I can watch over and over again .I love everything about this movie. I was only eighteen when I first saw it. I immediately fell in love with Cat Stevens....and his music! It is always fun to watch and I come away with so many memories...good ones. Thank you for your article
    Reply