Desert Dreams: Did Tatooine Begin as a Film Project on the Set of 'Mackenna's Gold'?
There's a great little vignette near the end of Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” that doesn't have anything to do with “High Noon” or the blacklist but does have something to do with the making of an American classic.
Carl Foreman, screenwriter/producer for “High Noon,” was blacklisted during its production for past communist ties and refusing to name names before HUAC. He wound up in England for a few years, then re-testified before HUAC in 1956 without naming names, and, with stops and stutters, rejuvinated his career. By 1967, he was writing/producing a film, “Mackenna's Gold,” with an early '60s cast to die for (Gregory Peck, Omar Shariff, Telly Savalas), all of whom were on the downhill slide by this point.
Foreman also funded several fellowships at USC film school, and in one he offered four students the opportunity to work on the “Mackenna's” set while producing a short film about how the movie was made. One of the students, Michael Ritchie, nailed it. Another was a problem:
George Lucas had no interest in mainstream commercial movies—he saw himself either as a documentarian or creator of avant-garde underground films—and he proposed making his short film about the desert where much of Mackenna's Gold was filmed. “Carl had a fit, he got so angry with me,” Lucas would later recall. “And he said 'you can't do one about the desert, you're supposed to do it about the movie'... ”So we kind of butted heads ... I just thought of him as some big Hollywood producer, you know, had tons of money and had connections ... one of the establishment.“
The various layers of irony in that paragraph is so lovely: that Lucas thought the blacklisted Foreman one of ”the establishment“; that Lucas wasn't interested in mainstream commercial movies; and that Lucas got infatuated with the desert and wanted to film it.
This kid, in the summer of love, who identified with what would become the ”Easy Rider" generation of filmmakers, would, in 10 years, destroy them with a massively mainstream commercial product that spent much of its time on a desert planet.