I was having a cleanout recently prior to moving into a new house when I came across a news piece from The Age regarding Neil Gillett.
Gillett said: “I have only once written anything worth repeating – and it has been attributed to someone else”.
The comment was attributed to Ava Gardner, a very popular actress in her day. But let me go back to the beginning.
Ava Gardner was a featured actress in the film adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach (my copy of the book is dated 1959). The book is about the end of the earth following a nuclear disaster.
Shute set the film in Melbourne and American director Stanley Kramer decided Melbourne would be the place to look most like Melbourne. After all, Melbourne was at the end of the earth, unless you included Hobart.
At the time Gillett was working in the Melbourne office of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun-Herald. He probably liked to have an occasional dig at Melbourne.
He was assigned to do an article about the filming of On The Beach.
“It was a time when, in the wake of the success of the Melbourne Olympics, old Melbourne-Sydney rivalries had been renewed with some bitterness,” he said later.
“I was to interview Miss Gardner and obtain, along with some details about her latest romance, some comments about Melbourne.
“Well, there was not much to write. The film people did not want to be interviewed. The only information about Miss Gardner was the number of bottles of Scotch and cartons of cigarettes delivered to her flat in South Yarra.
“But I managed to concoct some waffle about locations for the film, the stars appearing in it and so forth. This article appeared in the Sun-Herald.
“Ava Gardner never said ‘On the beach is a story about the end of the world and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it’.
“I wrote a last paragraph and assumed the subs would have a laugh and delete it.
“The last paragraph that I wrote said: ‘It has not been confirmed that Miss Gardner as has been confirmed from a usually reliable source if given the chance would seriously consider whether, if she managed to think of it, would like to have put on the record that she said On The Beach is a story about the end of the world and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it’.
“But they just thought I was being my usual wordy self. They reduced the preamble to Miss Gardner said and retained the quotation.
Miss Gardner said later that she did not remember saying it, but would take credit for it anyway.
“My most sincere regret is that in working for 30 years for newspapers I have only once written anything worth repeating, and it has been attributed to someone else,” Gillett said.