With a series of Oscars, film director Oliver Stone is a giant of his generation. Last week in the first part of our serialization of his autobiography, he told how he transformed his time as a soldier in Vietnam into one of the greatest war films.
Here, in our final edited extract, he reveals his private torments behind the famous Hollywood facade.
The big ones include: Stone received his Oscar for Midnight Express from film legend Lauren Bacall in 1979
It all started with a cryptic note from the headmaster of my tough boarding school in Pennsylvania. "Your father called," it said. "I would see you at 2.30am today."
Why should my father call? Something to do with my mother? An accident? Could she be dead? I didn't go to the headmaster. I was afraid of him.
But that evening I phoned my father. It was a conversation, as I suspected, that would change my life.
"Oliver, your mother and I are getting divorced."
That was enough. I heard the rest of the way and I'm not sure in what order.
"It hasn't been the same in a long time."
"She cried every morning."
"She's in love with another man."
"I can't take it any longer."
& # 39; WHO? Who is this man? ", I wanted to know.
"A hairdresser she knows. Miles Gabel. "
It was just amazing! Miles was my friend. I had spent part of the past summer with him.
"He's a bum!" My father's voice grew louder emotionally. He told me that our house was sublet and that my personal belongings – my baseball cards, pictures, toy soldiers, comics – were packed in boxes.
He would explain everything in detail soon, he said. He would arrange a trip for both of us to Florida, where we would play tennis, be bachelors, talk, and connect. And my mother would quietly withdraw to the edge of my life.
But where was my mother? She hadn't even called. She would tell me later that she was in shock. everything in her world had collapsed so suddenly. She was "embarrassed".
In time, she would describe how long my father had gone to get a divorce, including hiring a private investigator to keep track of her movements. Most of my parents' respected friends from the New York business world dropped them. Mama was now a woman who lived in shame. But it was all really a lie.
Papa had only told me half the story. I would find out that he has had affairs since the beginning of the marriage – with models, the women of their friends, hookers, even our Swiss nanny.
Women who came to our homes for dinner parties or for canastas or bridges, or were in the country houses where we were staying, or "old friends" from the war – Dad had apparently fucked them all.
On the whole, that nobody really thinks about in the middle of a storm, it was the end of a family. I had no brother or sister to share the stroke with.
We were suddenly three different people in three different places, and if my parents didn't even take care of me enough to see me or pull me out of school to tell me personally what had happened, what did it mean to them really?
"Born from a lie": Baby Oliver with his parents in New York in 1946. My past, my 15 years on earth, was a "wrong past" – an illusion. That was not always so
Well, then I would make myself important to myself. I should now be harder, be alone, not give in to grief, weakness or self-pity. I said that to myself. Looking back, my naivety amazes me at 15. How could I not have noticed what was going on? It is a story that it took me a long time to process – if so.
It is an awareness that most divorced children share. That our life, our being itself, is the creation of many lies. If my parents had really known each other – he was an American GI in Paris at the end of World War II, she was a pretty French peasant girl, many years younger than him – they would never have met before their marriage, and I would never have united exists.
Children like me are born from this original lie, and we suffer when we feel that nothing and nobody can ever be trusted again. My past, my 15 years on earth, was a "wrong past" – an illusion.
That was not always so. I had a blessed life for the first decade and a half. I wholeheartedly adored my sexy French mother and trusted and respected my hard working, high performing American stockbroker father.
When my mother was away from me, I longed for her. Like a child addict, I would watch her return and wait for her to come back from parties to kiss me good night.
She let go of the overwhelming attraction of her perfume with the alcohol she had been drinking and cuddled with me, a sexy good night as seen in older European films. A madonna and a child.
My mother had a healthy, natural way of dealing with her regarding sex and all matters. She ran around naked in her bedroom and as a child I often saw her in the shower without being ashamed.
So my mother made me aware that women were earthy people, not goddesses, as some men believe. Yes, it's true, her "sexy" nature may have given me a hidden desire for my mother, but did it distort my values?
I am convinced that our intimacy has repelled my father, whom I doubt he has ever seen his mother naked. He didn't want to know more about women. He preferred them as fantasies in black nylons.
Intended for divorce: the film director with his first wife Najwa in 1971. As things deepened between us, her gynecologist recommended seeing a doctor to examine myself. The verdict was painful and abrupt. The doctor said I would never have children. My sperm count was so far below normal that he didn't think this warranted further investigation
I met my father much more slowly than my mother. He was smart and dark-looking with a keen, self-deprecating Jewish sense of humor.
As a young man, he always wanted to write plays that were now stacked in a drawer in his desk. When he went to work on dark, depressing Wall Street almost every day of his life, part of his heart stayed in that drawer.
He would take me to good films – at least to the ones he wanted to see, like Stanley Kubrick's Paths Of Glory or David Leans The Bridge On The River Kwai.
My father always asked me afterwards: "So little one, what did you think?" I said something like "I really liked it" or not, and he said: "But did you notice that? Thing) was wrong, and because that happened, didn't it make sense? & # 39;
And I would ask, "Why doesn't (that) (that) make sense?" And we would deal with this chess game, which makes sense in a movie. My father generally smiled and said, "You know, we could have done better."
Without one of us realizing it, he gave me my first encouragement to become a screenwriter.
My mother also often sneaked out of school to watch double feature films in the films she adored, and then showered me with written excuses. In short, I could also have my ice cream and toy soldiers.
Everything had been so wonderful. And now it was over.
My father's writing ability would eventually be reflected in a monthly investment newsletter that he published for his wealthy clients. In one he commented: "Let's keep the hippies away from Congress."
Ironically, in 1969 he had in his own living room a long-haired time bomb of a son wearing pearls and amulets and using the ghetto dialect he so despised.
"Wow … cool … I can dig. What's going on? What do you do? “And the ubiquitous“ man ”along with the hand signals. It's been a year since I came back from Vietnam, and I was immersed in a spiral of emotions, wrote half-baked scripts, took LSD and grass, and engaged in sex, lots of lust, New York parties, random girls young and old. I drifted.
For Dad, I was the idiot son who would never mind much. For comparison, his brother's eldest son, my cousin Jimmy, taught economics at Harvard at the age of 25 before founding a private insurance company in Massachusetts and becoming a multimillionaire.
I seemed pointless next to him. I was on my way to becoming what my father always feared: a "bum".
A former schoolmate told me I could go to film school and get a college degree. For what – go to the cinema? It sounded good.
In the fall of 1969, I enrolled in the School of the Arts at New York University with no specific goal in mind. But the GI bill (for the return of Vietnam veterans) paid about 80 percent of the tuition – so why not?
It was a revelation. When I was 23 I finally started to learn a profession – a real profession. As a soldier, my eyes and ears in the jungle had become very sensitive to the slightest movement or change in sound.
Now the camera became my eyes and ears and created something fresh and new on film by pure instinct – a thrill that went beyond anything I could have imagined.
At that strange time, I met my first wife, Najwa, a striking Lebanese woman with olive skin and a polished British accent. As things deepened between us, her gynecologist recommended seeing a doctor to examine myself. The verdict was painful and abrupt.
The doctor said I would never have children. My sperm count was so far below normal that he didn't think this warranted further investigation.
It's hard to believe now how final this judgment was, but I accepted it and attributed it to my difficult forceps birth or an orchiectomy (a testicle removal operation) that I had when I was six.
But there was another option: Vietnam. We had used large amounts of Agent Orange, which had seriously damaged the genes of Vietnamese civilians and poisoned much of their country.
What a strange business if it had been that as an infantryman I didn't lose my life, I lost my future. My father took the message stoically while my mother thought it was garbage and assured me that one day I would have a child.
Najwa didn't seem to mind. Because she was older than me, some people said I married my mother and something was true. But the relationship should not last.
I was a divorced child and the only product my parents intended for the same fate as them. My marriage had been a lie. Vietnam too. Had most of my life.
It was time to start a new one. I flew to Los Angeles with two suitcases full of scripts and a few clothes and dealt with whatever would happen.
When I finished film school there wasn't much to celebrate. No jobs were waiting, let alone interest in the work of my or my fellow students.
Some of us took a taxi: they worked from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. so that during the day I could continue to write scripts and earn enough to contribute to the rent in my working wife's small apartment.
I expected Hollywood to be the same. But Los Angeles was shockingly generous to me – lucky beginners in a casino.
The phone rang two weeks later. It was my new, conscientious agent, Ron Mardigian.
"Hey Oliver, do you know what?"
Oh oh. No, I didn't want to guess.
Marty Bregman read the platoon. Loved it. He wants to choose an option, up to $ 10,000 in cash in advance. How does that sound? "
There was more. “He wants you to meet Al Pacino and Sidney Lumet in New York. He wants this to be his next picture. "
Imagine the thunder and lightning of these words. Marty Bregman was a respected producer who had once been Pacinos manager. Another out of the blue phone call that would change my life.
As it turned out, platoon would not be made for many years, but there were many other jobs. And so it was that three years after my arrival in Hollywood, I was in demand.
I heard the words "brilliant", "genius" behind my back. For the first time in my life I was able to go to a party and immediately people knew who I was.
When I won my first Oscar for the Midnight Express screenplay in 1979, Mama was in the famous New York nightclub Studio 54, partying with a group of gay friends who went wild.
She enjoyed it a lot more than I did, which irritated me at the time but now makes me happy. Papa had fallen asleep and missed it. It was long after bed, bless him.
I now lived in an intense fantasy world with a bachelor apartment on Sunset Boulevard and an Oscar on my shelf. Suddenly I had more "friends" than ever before and there were constant parties, girls, film screenings, premieres, mushrooms, drugs and drinking. I was in the gutter a few years ago. It wouldn't be long before I would return.
I made my directorial debut with a psychological thriller, The Hand, with Michael Caine. I was hopeful, but when it was released in 1981, they called it DOA: Dead on Arrival.
Depressed, haunted, I took refuge in friends who saw the debacle as another pit stop in this life. They were clever and loved cocaine and other drugs, sometimes heroin. I started using cocaine to numb the pain. My friend Elizabeth joined me.
I wasn't a messy coke head. I flipped through the pages every day, but what I needed most was the high, the combination of up and down, contradicting movements in the head.
When I look back, I can see how my father's discipline patterns merge with my mother's forbearance. Both extremes had come together to form this torn human.
I knew in my gut that the only way to break this chain was to get out of a city where most of the people I loved being with used drugs. I saw a forced exile from my new home in paradise.
The culmination of this destructive cycle was my marriage to Elizabeth in June 1981. Moving to Paris, my mother's city, to write with her later that year was the best decision I could make.
A short excerpt from Chasing The Light by Oliver Stone, released on July 21st by Monoray (octopusooks.co.uk) and priced at £ 25
The cold temperature, the excellent food and supportive friends were the main factors. Most importantly, none of my French acquaintances drank cola there. I'm fed up with it myself and didn't want it anymore. Elizabeth too.
In winter 1982 we returned to New York. Both Liz and I now wanted to have a child. We consulted a specialist who couldn't imagine what the idiotic doctor told me ten years ago and who followed me with thoughts of chemical warfare.
He was convinced of success and provided us both with the latest technology. Meanwhile, my father was still working and defiantly smoking and drinking whiskey every day, but went to the doctor more often for heart and other problems. No question, he collapsed.
Mama moved into his apartment's guest room to help him, brought a feeling of French happiness, and mixed her own life with his as it was in the 1950s.
1984 was the special year that I prayed for. Mom and Dad half meet again, and in April Elizabeth called me to triumphantly say that she was with a child. It was wonderful, the best news I ever wanted.
Dad told me he would see his first grandchild. But he died. He was in the New York hospital, a pincushion with IV fluids in his arms. This once handsome, imposing man was a shock to my eyes.
The nurses removed the breathing tube and we talked. He was drugged and tried to be coherent. I'm not sure if I can say that he really enjoyed seeing me because I could never measure myself in his mind. But that was also my paranoia. Even with an Oscar, I couldn't feel like a successful man. I remember leaving the hospital exasperated and even hating him.
New Year's Day 1985 embodied all the roller coaster changes in my life. On the floor of the living room was a four-day-old baby worm that we named Sean after the dashing Scottish actor named James Bond.
A clear, clear name, easy to remember. A boy who could be liked. If there was ever evidence that we were born with a sweet nature, it was that. I had never been so happy, though Dad had failed.
On my way to Los Angeles to work on my latest film, Salvador, I took a last break to say goodbye to Dad. no, not really – taking a last look is more accurate.
In my head I prepared notes for his obituary, then the memorial service and all the procedures. Maybe his brain could go to the doctors to study. But what about his heart?
He was always tough, my father, and as much as I admired him for it, I hated him too, but I loved him, but damn it, he didn't have a damn heart! – or he did and he couldn't show it. In the end, things don't change like in the film. There is no forgiveness or redemption, only the end.
I dedicated Salvador to my father. I wish he had lived a little longer to see it. Even he would have laughed at the madness of Richard Boyle (the main character).
And maybe even believe that his "idiotic son" hadn't become a "bum" after all.
© Oliver Stone, 2020
Shortened Excerpt from To hunt The light from Oliver Stone, which is released by Monoray (octopusooks.co.uk) on July 21st Price £ 25.
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