Albert Zugsmith was a producer who was a very big producer. He had many films going at once, and he had a company at Universal. I did a terrible little movie called Adam & Eve, or something, and I was naked in it, except for a fig leaf. Zugsmith was a big shot guy who’d fallen from grace by the time I got involved with him, and he would have me come into his office, and tell me stories about himself. That kind of guy — a blowhard. It was a funny thing too when I did that film. He said, “I want you to do this film, and I’m gonna direct it, and I want you to star in it. You’re gonna play Adam.” I don’t think there was a script even. I don’t know where he got the money or anything. But I shot one night, all night, in this mansion in this garden where I wake up as Adam, and come upon this girl. I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t working at the time at all, and I remember I said someone stole my pants, because I didn’t even have a dressing room. It was in a cabana, a pool house. I was outraged, and I said, “I had $600 in my pocket.” That meant they had to pay me that $600. I hid the pants somewhere and I was pants-less, and they had to get me a pair of pants even in the morning to go home. They found my fucking pants. There was like $1.50 in there, so I was busted. That was terrible. Anyway, when I found out that Zugsmith had produced Touch of Evil, I was impressed, and I asked him about it. He said that Welles was on the lot shooting a film as an actor. Zugsmith was a big fan, and called Welles into his office. It was hard for Welles to get gigs directing any Hollywood movies. Impossible. Zugsmith said, “But I’m brave enough, I’m big enough to do that,” and so he tells Welles he wants to do a movie with him. It’s gotta be small, but he can direct it, and Welles says, “What movie?” Zugsmith says, “Take your pick.” And he’s got a line of books that he has options to, these various novels. He said there’s about 30 or 40 of them. Welles says, “What’s the best one?” And he says, “Here’s the best ones, and here’s the worst ones. The potboilers.” Welles said, “What’s the worst one called?” And he said, “Badge of Evil, and it’s a paperback — an old fucked-up paperback.” Welles chooses that and said, “Let me have a whack at that.” So, he writes Touch of Evil. Then Zugsmith said he had a really hard time with Welles, but he was good with him, because Welles would get depressed. Welles was in Venice shooting on the arcade there. They called Zugsmith, and he was in San Diego shooting a big film with Rock Hudson, and they said, “You gotta get up here. Welles won’t do anything. He’s drunk, and he’s sitting in a chair, and he can’t move.” Zugsmith drove up in two hours and said, “What’s the problem? What you need is some vodka, right?” He’d get him a bottle of Vodka, and he talked him into it, and made him do it. Otherwise, Touch of Evil was all Zugsmith’s doing, the way he told it.
Then I ran into [Charlton] Heston a few years later, and I told Heston that story. He said, “Bullshit. Welles was always set to play the detective, and we lost the director about three days before we were supposed to start shooting, and it was all my idea.” And Heston said, “I said to Zugsmith, ‘You’ve got the greatest director in America right here on the fucking set, and you’re saying you can’t find a director?’ And Welles didn’t want to do it, and Zugsmith didn’t want him.” It was that story. I don’t know if a little of each are true, or not one of them is true, or one of them is true. I thought Zugsmith’s story was true for a long time. And I actually met Welles, and I was so nervous, I didn’t query him about it.
On Charlton Heston’s portrayal of a Mexican
I saw it when I was very young, and I didn’t have anything against Heston when I was very young. Later on, because of his politics, and because of his acting, you know, he’d become a joke to me as an actor. He wasn’t a bad actor. He was a serious actor in a lot of ways. I never saw his Julius Caesar. He played Antony. But I was impressed with his Mexican. Always in those days, basically your Mexican was a Jew — it was all Jewish actors playing Mexicans. I mean, Viva Zapata!, you know those guys in Kazan’s movie? Well, they weren’t Mexicans. They were New York Jews, and so a movie was another world, so it didn’t seem outlandish to me. There wasn’t yet, when I saw that film, a “brown is beautiful” movement at all. I mean, later on it got pretty strong. I played an Indian in some TV show, one of the last things I did, and I had to prove that I was part-Indian. The mannerisms, I don’t think Heston studied anything to be a Mexican. I think that performance was somewhat informed by Brando’s performance in The Wild One. That’s what I thought. I don’t mean in any overt way, but he took a Brando pill I thought for that thing. It might have been Zapata. What gave that away to me was the shot of him coming into camera while lighting a cigar, a stogie in the corner of his mouth — and that was Brando. Charlton Heston’d never do that in his life. I don’t mean smoke a stogie. I just mean the way he did it. If you recall, he had it in the corner of his mouth, and his lips were pulled down. That was like pure Brando. I thought right then, “This guy loves Brando,” which is nice. I was glad Charlton Heston loved Brando. I don’t know if it’s a fact, but I bet it is.