interviews Stephanie Berrington McNutt (Elizabeth)
How did you get the part of
Elizabeth in Father Goose? How old were you? Had you acted before?
My parents knew a lady who was a
studio librarian and who also happened to be English. The
producers asked her if she knew of any children from English
families who might be candidates for the movie. They were
looking for children with no prior acting experience, if
possible. She mentioned my sister and me. We had interviews,
screen tests and eventually both of us got parts. I was 11 years
old at the time and had no prior acting experience.
Where was the film made? What
were the living conditions on the set? How long did it take to
The film was made on the
Universal Studios set in Hollywood and on location at a coconut
plantation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. My family was living in
Montecito (near Santa Barbara) at the time so we would drive to
Hollywood on Sunday evening and come back home on Friday
evening. We stayed at a hotel near the studio in Hollywood. On
location, we stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Ocho Rios. We spent
about 8 weeks in Hollywood and 4 weeks in Jamaica.
I noticed another one of the
girls in the film, Jennifer, shares your last name. Is she related
Yes, she is my sister. We are
three years apart, so she was eight when we made the film.
How do you prepare to act
opposite Cary Grant? Were you aware of him as a *superstar* at
that time? Were you nervous? If so, was there anything he did to
put you at ease?
I made little, if any,
preparation. I was not aware of who Cary Grant was at all. My
parents told me that he was a very famous movie star, but at 11
years old, it really didn't make a big impression. Consequently,
I was not nervous at all. Mr. Grant was very friendly and good
at telling jokes which all of the children loved.
What was it like to work with
him? Did he seem to enjoy working with kids? During breaks and
down-time, what was your interaction with him like? Did he
socialize much on the set, or did he retreat to his trailer when
work was done?
He clearly loved children. At the
time elephant jokes were all the rage and we used to have
informal competitions to see who could tell the funniest
elephant jokes. He was very current on the latest jokes. We used
to do this in between takes. Unless there was a good reason for
him to leave the set, he usually stayed between takes and talked
and joked. Since there were 7 children on the set, we also used
to tell jokes among ourselves.
What did the cast and crew do
In Hollywood, we didn't have much
visibility of that, especially since we were young children. In
the evenings, we used to go out for dinner and then back to our
hotel rooms. In Jamaica, we mostly went to the beach and swam in
the pool. We also took a few shopping trips into Kingston and
took some tours of local landmarks like Rose Hall which was
supposed to be a haunted mansion. Our breakfast and lunch were
provided in a large tent on the set. In the evening, the
children all ate together in the Hilton Hotel dining room before
it opened to other hotel guests. The waiters used to practice
their skills on us before they were turned loose on the other
unsuspecting hotel guests!
How much time was spent in
rehearsals? Did the final cut deviate much from the script? Did
Cary, you, or anyone else ad-lib?
We used to rehearse scenes just
prior to shooting them. Each evening, we received a list with a
schedule of the scenes that were to be shot the next day so we
knew what we had to prepare/memorize in terms of lines. There
were changes that were made to the script on an ongoing basis
and we used to receive the revised pages which were printed on
different colored paper to distinguish them from the original.
Cary did ad-lib and sometimes when he forgot a line, he
ad-libbed and it was better than the original so it was kept in
the script. In the scene in which the children are sneaking onto
his boat to take clothes and supplies, I slipped on the steps of
the cabin and, although it wasn't in the script, I turned around
to the child behind me and said, "be careful" which is
what I would have said anyway. It seemed the natural thing to
do. After we shot that scene, the director told me that I had
absolutely done the right thing.
You played the awkwardness of a
teen very well. Was it an acting "stretch" or were you
going through that "difficult age" (as Leslie Caron
described it) yourself? How close was Elizabeth to your own
My character, Elizabeth, was 15
years old and I was 11 at the time. Boys were not on my radar
screen at that point, so playing a love struck teenager was a
unfamiliar territory and the other children teased me about it a
little. They saved the love scene between Cary and me for the
end and it was shot after all of the other children had left.
The scene in which he pulls you
out of harm's way from the incoming plane is a pretty dramatic and
physical scene. How was it done? Was more than one take needed?
We had several takes on that
scene and it was a fun one to shoot. All of the personnel on the
set were very kind and concerned about my well-being since it
did require Mr. Grant to yank me off my feet into the air and
over his back. They had mattresses and cushions in the bushes
where I landed and the approaching "plane" that I was
looking at when we shot the scene was actually a rag on a long
pole (it gave me something to focus on). After each take, Mr.
Grant always asked me if I was okay. On one take he was
especially vigorous and I distinctly remember flying through the
air. He was very concerned and apologetic after that one, but I
thought it was kind of fun! I don't know if that was the one
that they selected to include in the final cut or not.
The fake "seduction"
scene is, of course, priceless. Was it difficult to stay serious
during that scene? Were there any outtakes or bloopers due to
laughter, or missed lines?
We had a number of takes on that
one also. Since it was shot at the end of the production, they
were concerned that Mr. Grant and I were too friendly by then
and that I would not be able to demonstrate the appropriate
"fear" reaction for the scene. We did have a few times
when he laughed and/or I laughed but I think we finished it up
in half a day. Even though he seemed like a "buddy" at
that point, it was still unnatural feeling for me at 11 years
old to be swooped up by a then 60+ year old man so I was fairly
easily able to show some consternation.
Are there any funny or
interesting anecdotes that occurred during the filming of Father
Yes, there were several and
probably some I no longer remember. I do remember the scene when
we are traveling back at night in his dinghy and we get passed
by the two large ships. That scene was shot on a sound set on
Universal's back lot. It was a large tank like a swimming pool.
We had wave-making machines which were logs attached to steel
arms that kept slapping the water to make waves. The larger
ships were actually projected onto screens above the water. At
first, the dinghy was just floating free and was not attached to
anything. In one of the first few takes, it took on so much
water that it sank (it wasn't supposed to) and most of the
children were thrilled. It was like going for a swim. There was
one child, however, who did not know how to swim so the
directors and producers all jumped into the water in their good
clothes and expensive watches to "save" us. Needless
to say, most of us didn't want to be saved at all! Photos were
taken and I believe they were published in the Los Angeles
Were there any problems that
occurred during filming?
See above. Other than the
day-to-day issues that came up, there was nothing major.
Cary was described as very
meticulous on the set- always prepared for his scenes, and often
checking lighting and other technical aspects himself. Did you
notice that particular trait?
He was usually very well
prepared. I did not notice him checking lighting, but he was
very involved in all aspects of the production and often made
suggestions or changes that he thought would improve the
What was it like to work with
Miss Caron (to us!) was also very
kind and was very professional.
Did you learn anything about
acting specifically from Cary or Leslie?
I think we learned that it should
be fun and we should act as it came naturally to us. We were
children playing children's parts and above all, they did not
want us to be stiff or programmed. As a result, we could be
What was director Ralph Nelson
He was the "boss" on
the set. What he said went and we always obeyed him. He received
the Oscar for his direction of "Lilies of the Field"
with Sidney Poitier while we were filming Father Goose. Sidney
Poitier came to the set to congratulate Ralph.
Being on the set with 6 other
girls must have been a wonderful bonding experience. Discuss.
It was like having 6 sisters. We
were all school age and at the time, California law required
that children have at least 3 hours of academic instruction per
day. So, we had a trailer on the set with desks in it that was
our classroom. We were all at different ages so it was like a
one-room school house with one teacher for us all. When they
needed us for a scene, they would come to the trailer and knock
and off we would go. It was probably very frustrating for the
teacher. Each of the girls was with her mother. There were two
sets of sisters, my sister and I and Nicole and Laurelle
Felsette (who played the French sisters). There was one girl
from Australia (Pip Sparke who played Anne) and her mother and
my mother became close friends. They still correspond today.
While we were in Hollywood, we used to go over as a group to the
commissary each day for lunch. We used to particularly enjoy
that too because we used to see other actors and actresses often
in costume from other productions including some TV shows. I
remember one day in particular, visiting with
"Grandfather" from the Munsters. We went onto that set
and were treated to all of the tricks and special effects. We
became closer when we were on location because we were all
staying in the hotel together and taking all of our meals
together. We went swimming together and walked on the beach,
etc. and became good friends.
Being on the set with 6 other
girls must have led to some occasional "drama". Discuss.
We actually all got along very
well. Sometimes one or more of the girls didn't want to join in
the silliness or fun but we always tried to be inclusive.
Cary Grant was dating Dyan
Cannon at the time. Did she visit the set?
Oh, yes, she was often there,
particularly in Jamaica. We used to see her at lunch time in the
lunch tent and used to play games.
Cary seemed to relish playing
the role of a beach bum- the antithesis of his screen persona and
previous roles. In your opinion, was this character closer to the
"real" Cary Grant? Did you feel you got to know the real
Yes, I think I did. He enjoyed
being able to relax and really wasn't a stiff person at all. He
was very down to earth and may have felt he could be more
himself with kids as opposed to adults. He laughed easily and
was very sharp and quick-witted. A wonderful companion.
Did you keep in touch with Cary,
Leslie, or any of your co-stars after the movie was completed? Did
you form close friendships with any of the girls?
The Christmas after we wrapped
the film, Mr. Grant called my sister and me at home to wish us a
Merry Christmas. We were very touched because it was so
thoughtful. When the reviews came out, Dyan Cannon sent us some
of them with comments. We did not have any further contact with
Miss Caron or most of the other girls. I still get news of Pip
Sparke through our mothers who correspond between California and
Australia. I also bumped into Mr. Grant a couple of times after
the production, the last one being at the Variety Arts Club in
Los Angeles when I was in law school (which was about 17 or 18
years after Father Goose). He was with his then-wife, Barbara
Harris. He recognized me and remembered that I had lived in
Santa Barbara and that my sister, Jennifer, was in the movie
too. Mr. Grant's daughter with Dyan Cannon is also named
Jennifer. We have also seen one of the assistant directors, Mike
Moder, who is now Julia Roberts' father in law.
Tell us about the premiere and
reaction to the film. Did you attend a big Hollywood premiere? How
did your family and friends react to your film debut? Did you have
any further acting aspirations?
Father Goose opened at Radio City
Music Hall in New York City and we did not attend. We did,
however, attend the sneak preview of the film which was in Santa
Barbara and was attended by Mr. Grant. It was very exciting and
great fun and was my first time to see the final film and also
to see the public's reaction to it. I also remember seeing it
with a friend of mine when it was in the theaters and she
laughed so hard at the "seduction" scene which I
thought was strange at the time because I didn't think it was
that funny. Now, of course, it is quite amusing.
What was the best part of the
Father Goose experience? The worst?
I think the best part was being
associated with a Cary Grant production. With a star of the
stature that he was, the production was of the best quality. The
people were nice and everything was top notch. It was fun to
experience first-hand how a movie is made and to have the whole
process de-mystified. Having a month in Jamaica wasn't too bad
either! The worst part was probably being separated from my
father and brother for an extended period of time. At the end of
the Father Goose production, another company was arriving in
Jamaica to film "High Wind in Jamaica" and asked us if
we would be interested in staying and working on that
production. My mother's answer was, "No, we need to go