Meeting Francis Ford Coppola

As is the usual formula, when beginning production on a film, the exterior shots on location were done first. So it was, that for the production of “Finian’s Rainbow,” Howard Kazanjian flew north from Los Angeles to San Francisco to meet the director and help him shoot exteriors in the Bay area. He arrived downtown and parked his rental car in the basement garage of the Hilton Hotel. He took the elevator up from there. Two men got on at the first floor – an older man and a young man with a beard. About the fourth floor the bearded man turned to the older and asked, “When is Howard Kazanjian going to get here?” That got Howard’s attention. The bearded man of course was Francis Ford Coppola, who had never met Howard before. The older man was the production manager, who did know Howard and quickly made the introductions.

Over the next few days Howard came to know and admire the film making sensibilities of Coppola. In their immediate meetings, no real plan was laid out blow for blow, just some destinations at which they needed to arrive for some opportunities that did have to be planned in advance. They would be on the lookout and stop along the road whenever they saw an interesting backdrop for the stars to gambol across. We would call this style these days, “guerrilla film-making.” This struck a chord with Howard.

The first day would be spent with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark in the environs of the Golden Gate Bridge, both south and north of it. What footage they captured would be used for the title sequence of the film. And when they finished, they needed to be up in the Sonora area, where they had scheduled a complicated shoot with the romantic lead Don Francks and a railroad train.

At the time there must have been a lot on Coppola’s mind. Coppola adored the music of Finian’s Rainbow, but not so much the story. In fact he called the book “klunky” and out of date. To give it a more contemporary feel he added a whole new subplot – the mentholated tobacco hybridization that the Al Freeman Jr. character was working on as a means to save the Rainbow Valley community financially. His activism and sit down strikes injected a civil rights flavor into the story.

Back in LA the production was still being put together. Casting had not been completed. Sets were still being designed and put together. At least they did not have those worries. Coppola and Kazanjian had a week ahead of them free to go where the wind blew them.