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A leading man takes a look back

Times Staff Writer

FARLEY GRANGER has seen good times and bad times, and at 81, he’s still witty, charming and not afraid to speak his mind. The veteran actor has recently been talking about his colorful past and getting good notices for his memoir, “Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn to Broadway,” which he co-wrote with his companion of the last four decades, Robert Calhoun.

(The title of the book comes from one of the famous malapropisms of producer Samuel Goldwyn, to whom Granger was under contract back during Hollywood’s studio system days.)

He’ll be discussing his career -- and no doubt his love affairs with such luminaries as Ava Gardner, Leonard Bernstein and Shelley Winters -- at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on Wednesday after a screening of one of Granger’s best-known films, the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller “Strangers on a Train.”

Before the screening, he’ll be signing his book down the street from the Aero at Every Picture Tells a Story.

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Though Hitchcock declared actors should be treated like cattle, Granger says that was just hyperbole.

“I think that basically was him trying to get publicity,” he says. “He was a publicity hound. He loved to outrage people.”

When Hitchcock cast Granger the first time in 1948’s “Rope,” a fictionalized account of the Leopold-Loeb murder case of the 1920s, he “was not all that experienced” as an actor, but Hitchcock had noticed Granger in Nicholas Ray’s film noir “They Live by Night.”

“He had seen it on what they called the Bel-Air Circuit, which was the producers’ homes’ screening rooms,” Granger says. “The film had been shelved for two years by [producer] Howard Hughes because he was trying to get ‘The Outlaw’ released.”

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Granger recalls that he was “floored” at his first meeting with Hitchcock in the director’s office.

“When I walked into his outer office, the walls were covered by 8-by-10 drawings of every shot in the movie. The entire film was there,” he says. “He was so technically secure he didn’t even have to look through the camera. The crew worshipped him because he was so knowledgeable.”

And actors also adored him.

“He told you where he wanted you to go and where you had to end up,” he says. “There was very little directing in terms of telling you how to perform the scene.”

“Strangers on a Train,” based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, is one of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful psychological thrillers. Granger plays a tennis pro, with an overbearing estranged wife, who meets a charming, wealthy psychopath (Robert Walker) on a train.

The chance conversation leads to double-murder and a thrilling conclusion at a carnival.

Walker, who had a long battle with the bottle, died the same year the film was released at age 32. Walker had “tried to pull it together” during the production, Granger says. “He was a terrific guy.”

Granger recalls the first night they were on location in Washington, D.C., when he and Walker painted the town and got a little tipsy.

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“We went back to his hotel room, and it was that night that he talked for the first and only time about the heartbreak over the breakup of his marriage” to actress Jennifer Jones, says Granger.

“He was still very much affected by it. Aside from that night, there was no appearance of that on the set. He was completely professional and a terrific person.”

Shortly before the film was released, Granger ran into Walker at a party in Hollywood.

“He said, ‘Farley, we have to get together. I miss you. We should not let the friendship slip away,’ ” Granger recalls. “I took his number and he took mine, and the next thing I knew he died.”

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susan.king@latimes.com

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‘Tribute to Farley Granger’

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Where: American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Price: $4 to $10

Contact: (323) 466-FILM or go to www.americancinematheque.com

Also

Where: Book signing with Granger at Every Picture Tells a Story, 1311-C Montana Ave., Santa Monica

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday

Contact: (310) 451-2700


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