I'll Let The Film Pile Up For You
An Interview With Mary Tomasini
by Rachel Igel
George Tomasini had a varied and fascinating career. He
edited nine films for Alfred Hitchcock, including
Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North By
Northwest (for which he received an Academy Award
and The Birds.
Among his many other credits were
Stalag 17, Elephant Walk, The Time Machine, The Misfits,
and the original Cape Fear,
Mary Brian married George Tomasini in 1947 and they were
together until his death in 1964. Mary had a very successful career of her own,
appearing on the stage and in a variety of films, including the original
versions of Peter Pan
(as Wendy), Beau Geste
(with Ronald Colman), The Virginian
(with Gary Cooper), and The Front Page
(with Pat O'Brien), as well as The Royal Family of
Broadway (with Fredric March). Mary was one of the
founding members of the Screen Actors Guild. I spoke with Mary about her life
with George, his career and her own, and the way things were during Hollywood's
Mary Tomasini is a charming and gracious woman. Visiting
her beautiful home is like stepping into another era. There is an atmosphere of
peace and serenity, a place where equal care is given to the brewing of tea, the
trimming of a flower, and the painting of the many portraits that fill the walls
of her house. Among others, Mary has painted Alfred Hitchcock, Conrad Hilton,
friends and relatives, and, of course, George.
George Tomasini was born in 1909, and grew up in
Springfield, Massachusetts. His mother and father died when he was very young,
and although he had three sisters, the siblings did not live together. George
went to foster homes, and when he was a teenager his foster parents decided that
he should become a priest.
"He had been an altar boy," says Mary, "but he was not
ready to become a priest, thank God. If you knew George, he was not priest
Still in his teens, George ran away to California and
there met Otho Lovering, who was then John Ford's editor. Otho got George a job
carrying cans, and from there he worked his way up to
projectionist at Paramount. In 1937, he went into the
editing department, where he worked as a sound editor, music editor, assistant
picture editor, and eventually picture editor. When World War II broke out,
George enlisted in the army, and was soon heading up the sound effects division
in Astoria, New York, where he was in basic training. Training films provided
George with good experience for what was to come. Mary was a successful actress
at that time. She began her career in 1924. "I did Wendy, in
Peter Pan. That was my first
picture. We flew on wires in that picture, from bed, to bureau, to the window.
They didn't have all of the wonderful equipment that they have now, but the men
up above had platforms, and they ran this piano wire attached to a thing in my
back, and I could fly from one place to another. I was quite young at the time,
with my two brothers, and they would put us to bed there in the nursery, and we
would sleep until they were ready to fly us in another direction. Then we would
get up very early in the morning to go to San Pedro to get the first light on
the pirate ship. So I thought that's the way they make pictures."
Mary spent most of the war years overseas, entertaining
the troops with the U.S.O. "I was with Charlie Ruggles in Okinawa. And I was on
the island of Tinian when they dropped the atomic bomb. Colonel Paul Tibbets,
who was the pilot and the officer in charge, took Charlie and me on the plane
the next day, and nobody had been allowed in that encampment. So I was on the
Enola Gay. And I had gone with Jack Haley, senior, of course, to Italy and North
Africa." Flying to England on a troop shoot, Mary got caught in the Battle of
the Bulge. It was an exciting time.
Mary and actress Glenda Farrell were good friends.
Glenda's brother Richard was a film editor, and he and George were also friends.
After the war, George was in New York in the process
recommended George to him, and he did
From then on, he did every picture that Mr. Hitchcock did until the time he
of being "mustered out" of the army. "Glenda Farrell gave
this party in New York for her brother and George," says Mary, "and they had
wanted me to go up to Canada on their bond drive. I was just coming back from
the Pacific. Glenda called and said, 'I'm having this party and it will be for
you, too, because you are also just getting out of the army!' So that's where I
met George. There was quite an attraction immediately. We started dating right
Mary and George came out to Los Angeles where Mary's
mother lived. "I did a few things after that, but it seemed like everything that
came up used to go on the road. I had been doing a lot of stage work (including
a musical, The Shuberts,
in London) but after a few things I decided that I had done all of that, and it
was more important for me to be married."
George edited Elephant Walk,
for producer Irving Asher, and through him met
Alfred Hitchcock. Asher and Hitchcock had been friends in London. When Vivian
Leigh became ill and was replaced with Elizabeth Taylor, George was able to use
much of the wonderful background footage of Ceylon that Vivian Leigh was in
without making the audience conscious that a different actress was now playing
the role. Asher was very impressed. "So when Mr. Hitchcock came to
always gave George first cut. He wanted to see his interpretation.
Paramount, Asher recommended George to him, and he did
Rear Window. And from
then on, he did every picture that Mr. Hitchcock did until the time he died."
George and Hitchcock became very close friends. "Mr.
Hitchcock wanted George to go with him on every location, whether he could work
there or not. And so he had wonderful trips. He went to England and Morocco on
The Man Who Knew Too Much,
and to Germany when they were doing the sound for
The Birds. And to San Francisco, of course, for
Vertigo, and wherever
he was shooting, because he liked his company, aside from any input that George
could give him.
"Mr. Hitchcock always gave George first cut. He wanted to
see his interpretation. Then they got down to the fine work. He would go to the
preview. Of course, George had been a projectionist and had worked in all of the
other phases of the business. There wasn't a thing that he didn't know about his
Hitchcock wanted to put George under personal contract,
but George was concerned that there would be long intervals between films.
"Sometimes the screenplays that he (Hitchcock) was doing didn't come together
very quickly, and George liked to work. So Mr. Hitchcock said that they
would make an agreement that he could do pictures for
other directors in between, but after a picture was finished Mr. Hitchcock would
have first dibs on him. He said, 'I'll let the film pile up for you.' So that's
the way it worked."Mary was prepared for the long hours that George often
worked. "He would meet Mr. Hitchcock early in the morning to match film before
they'd get started shooting, and then ran rushes at night. But even at home, he
was thinking about a lot of things, trying to figure out how to make the film
that he had come together. Sometimes you'd see him pacing the floor. He was off
in a cutting room even when he was at home, trying to figure out how he was
going to do certain things."
While George was editing The
Misfits for John Huston, Mary often went to visit
him on location in Reno, Nevada. "They went up for five weeks and stayed for
five months. So when Psycho
came out, I saw it in a theater up there. I was very impressed, and I was so
proud of what George had done, of course. People would often come up and ask him
a lot of things about that film." It was one of George's most satisfying
experiences as an editor.
George was an outdoor man, and loved to go camping,
hunting and fishing. Mary remembers the last, fateful trip that George made.
"George went out with Bill Andrews, who was a sound cutter,
air, fine appearance, and bright outlook on life was stimulating to the
worst pessimist among us.
and I forgot who else on a weekend to go quail hunting.
And the fun of it was that they would take supplies and just camp out and go for
the whole thing. He went off happy as he could possibly be. They had many
laughs, because George had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to tell stories.
As they were getting ready to come back George said, 'I think I'll just lie down
a moment.' They packed the station wagon and when George didn't come, they went
to him. His hands were behind his head; he was stretched out, peacefully. He
never had a spasm of pain. It was such a shock when they told me. But I look
back, and it was a Godsend that it was easy."
George was only 55 years old when he died, but he left
behind a wonderful body of work. Mary has never remarried, but keeps herself
busy painting, seeing friends and tending her animals and beautiful garden. Ira
Heymann, in his piece recalling George in the Winter, 1965 issue of
Cinemeditor, expressed the
feelings of many: "His care-free air, fine appearance, and bright outlook on
life was stimulating to the worst pessimist among us. That booming chuckle of
his was a vitamin pill, when one of us was low in spirits. I'm glad I can say I
was a friend of his."
Rachel Igel is the editor of the Guild Directory
Directory of Members 1996 -1997