Wednesday 18 January 2017

The Mr Fixit of the movie world who wore Joan Collins's bikini

Joe O'Shea

Published 26/02/2011 | 05:00

For legendary movie Mr Fixit Eddie Fowlie, being urinated on by Robert Mitchum in Kerry was something of an occupational hazard.

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Fowlie, who has died aged 89, was the right-hand-man and "dedicated maniac" for David Lean, working on many of the director's epics, including Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia and Ryan's Daughter.

From being a bikini-clad body double for a young Joan Collins, to driving the train that crashes off The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Fowlie was the go-to-guy for directors who needed to get the job done.

And in an age when dictatorial directors and alpha-male actors frequently duked it out on set, Fowlie, a tough former Scot's Guardsman, was often called on to put a restraining hand on a shoulder or a double scotch in somebody's hand.

It was on the set of Ryan's Daughter, on Slea Head in Kerry, that Fowlie had a series of run-ins with the notoriously irascible Robert Mitchum.

Things came to a head when Fowlie was crouched under Mitchum, working on the set-up for a special-effects scene.

"I didn't like Mitchum very much and I know damn well that he didn't like me," recalled Fowlie in later years.

"On Ryan's Daughter, he tried to urinate on me when I was fixing dynamite boxes beneath his feet."

Ryan's Daughter, shot in the late 1960s on the Dingle Peninsula, was a famously fraught experience for all involved, with Mitchum later observing: "Working with David Lean is like constructing the Taj Mahal out of toothpicks."

But it was Fowlie's ability to calm Lean's volatile temper, added to his instinctive, self-taught skills in stunt co-ordination and special effects, that made him indispensable to the great director.

His most famous contribution to movie history was the creation of the ice-palace in Doctor Zhivago, using tonnes of marble dust to create an eerily convincing Russian ice-scape on location in the Spanish countryside, at the height of summer.

Fowlie would not work in a studio, and helped Lean to achieve the striking images on the locations for which his films were famous. For Lawrence of Arabia, he turned the Andalusian fishing village of Carboneras in Spain into the coastal town of Aqaba. But Fowlie always insisted that if audiences could detect such manipulation, he had fallen short.

"If you know it's a special effect, it's failed," he said. "Doctor Zhivago was shot in Spain. All of it. The snow isn't real, I came up with that. It's white marble dust. Thousands of tons of the stuff. It was surprisingly cheap. With Doctor Zhivago, the whole film is a special effect."

A tall, powerfully built man with beetling eyebrows, Fowlie occasionally stood in as a body double. He was particularly proud of having doubled -- clad in a bikini -- for a young Joan Collins in underwater scenes of Our Girl Friday (1953).

Famously irascible, bloody-minded and rude, Fowlie was often involved in confrontations with the all-powerful screen unions. He himself never joined a union, and consequently seldom worked in Britain. He was singularly unimpressed by reputations, and turned down an offer to work with the director Stanley Kubrick after hearing that Kubrick was unpopular with his crews.

Fowlie was born on August 8, 1921, and brought up at Teddington, Middlesex. His first job was building biplanes at the local Hawker aircraft factory, but the work was not to his liking and he served in the Scots Guards for 18 months during the Second World War before being invalided out with an injured leg.

In hospital, pondering what to do with his life, he chatted to a soldier in the next bed who had worked in a film studio before the war. On his discharge Fowlie landed a job as a set dresser in the props department at the Warner Bros studio at Teddington, and worked on his first film, Captain Horatio Hornblower RN (1951), starring Gregory Peck.

He started to specialise in special effects and explosives and, in 1956, on the set of The Bridge on the River Kwai, struck up a friendship with Lean, which lasted until the director's death in 1991. Lean was immediately impressed by Fowlie's can-do approach -- the fact that he would hack back bits of jungle to clear the way for the camera, or fix foliage where none existed before if it was needed for a shot. Lean said Fowlie numbered among his "dedicated maniacs".

"Fowlie sorted out misunderstandings," wrote Kevin Brownlow in his biography of David Lean in 1996. "(He) put pressure on recalcitrant members of the crew, did stunts when stuntmen proved reluctant, and when David was sunk in gloom he was able, by a sort of sixth sense, to put into words what was bothering him."

In the late 1970s, when Fowlie and Lean were scouting locations in Tahiti for a remake of the film Mutiny on the Bounty, Fowlie stumbled on the whereabouts of an anchor that had belonged to Captain Cook, and managed to have it raised and brought ashore. Lean made a television film about the discovery -- Lost and Found: The Story of Cook's Anchor (1979).

Fowlie retired to Spain, where he built and ran a hotel.

Having filled no fewer than five different roles during the making of Doctor Zhivago, Fowlie was asked by the MGM studio which single on-screen credit he would prefer. Typically, he replied that he could not care less as long as he was paid, so the studio cited him for special effects, believing that he stood a good chance of being nominated for an Oscar. Fowlie always maintained that he missed out because his effects, including the marble snow, were so realistic that no one imagined they were not real.

Fowlie, who died on January 22, is survived by his third wife, Kathleen, and by two daughters from his first marriage.

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