Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic The Ten Commandments
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From concept stage through production in Egypt to release of the film: Katherine Orrison carefully recreates the behind-the-scenes story of Cecil B. DeMille's beloved epic.
ground of people one millennium after another. It was a Major Abbas El Boughdadly’s responsibility to ensure that men, chariots, and horses went in the same direction; eager, young Egyptian production assistants from Misr Studios ensured that the doves of peace flew in the right direction; and Misr’s artisans repainted. What lay ahead—at the end of a two-day desert trip down a newly whitewashed rock trail—was shooting in the desert, at the Red Sea, and on top of Mount Sinai itself. Sinai I
said from the outset it was too slow and that it dragged the movie down. All silent-movie-trained directors knew how important the right music was to a movie. Mood music was played on every silent movie set, and the movie’s score was sent out with the print to theaters so the organist or pianist could recreate the appropriate mood for the audience. When the first slow, reverential Exodus music was played for DeMille, he instantly ordered it changed. “This is a joyful time for these people.
DeMille himself. The Ten Commandments was DeMille’s biggest movie, but we had plenty of planning time, and we worked out every little detail. DeMille had a style of working, and we all knew each other so well that things went very smoothly. DeMille had production sketches and storyboards that were so beautiful, they looked like etchings. They told the whole story—so everyone was very prepared. Since he’d spent three years in preproduction, he wound up with a roomful of paintings. Everyone wanted
the arms of the Egyptian god Sokar at the end of the tenth plague. At that time, there was an art studio a few blocks east of Paramount across from Douglas Fairbanks’s old Producers Studio Stages on Melrose Avenue, now called Raleigh. For a week I lay flat on a board while they measured and duplicated me exactly. My legs, my arms, my hands, my head, my features were gone over and over until everything was just right—most especially, my left arm, which was supposed to dangle just so. DeMille and
others. Me included. The “hot” item to find in your Christmas stocking in those days was an alarm watch. The first one I remember seeing—or, rather hearing—was a Vulcain “Cricket” alarm watch. Well, Santa gave me one for Christmas 1954, and I was seldom parted from it—until it went off in the middle of a take on stage 16. Marc Antony didn’t hesitate to fall on his sword: “I’m sorry, Mr. DeMille, I didn’t know my alarm was set,” Henry piped up as I stood frozen in my tracks, mentally kissing my