October 17, 2007 (from Hamptons International Film Festival official site)
'Doris and Bernard' are crowd pleasers at Hamptons
By Jan Stuart
"Is this one going straight to television?" whined an audience member
to her companion at the premiere screening of "Doris and Bernard," which
opened the 15th International Hamptons Film Festival Wednesday night.
The curtain had yet to go up on Bob Balaban's speculative film about the
relationship between late oil billionairess Doris Duke and her devoted
butler of six years, Bernard Lafferty, but the woman sounded cheated to
hear that it was already destined for HBO.
No one in the opening night crowd seemed gipped by the end, if the warm
applause that greeted the director at the Easthampton UA multiplex was
any indication. "It's a work in progress," said Balaban of his film, a
low-voltage dramedy featuring two high-wattage star performances from
Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes. "If there's something you don't like,
we'll remove it immediately. If there is something you really like, we'll
add lots and lots more."
Filmed over a year ago at the Phipps Mansion in Old Westbury Gardens,
"Bernard and Doris" exudes an opulence that belies its $500,000 budget.
"Susan and Ralph are the greatest sports in the acting field," said
Balaban, hinting at the cut-rate salaries he was obliged to pay his cast.
"The production designer made furniture out of air."
And the filmmaker made actors out of anyone who might have something to
say about the late Duke, to judge from a cameo cast that included
writers Calvin Trillin and Dominick Dunne as members of Duke's board.
According to Balaban, Hugh Costello's erudite script "Bernard and Doris"
makes up quite a bit about the intimate rapport between Duke and her gay
Irish butler, who was bequeathed $5 million by his employer and made her
In lieu of extensive research, the director talked to a number of people
who knew Duke, and looked at a documentary about Lafferty that was made
by the Irish BBC. Lafferty died three years after Duke, but not before
he was accused of both murder and mismanaging her estate.
Duke was 80 at the time of her death in 1993.
Balaban conceded that he didn't go out of his way to age up his star for
the deathbed sequence.
"It would be hard to make Susan Sarandon look old and sick even on her
October 1, 2007 (from Hamptons International Film Festival official site)
Bernard and Doris
USA, 2007, 120 min World Premiere
Directed By: Bob Balaban Producers: Adam Kassen, Mark Kassen Screenwriter: Hugh Costello Cinematographer: Mauricio Rubinstein Editors: Andy Keir Cast: Susan Sarandon, Ralph Fiennes, Peter Asher, Don Harvey,
Chris Bauer, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Marilyn Torres
In 1987, Irish butler Bernard Lafferty arrived on the doorstep of
tobacco heiress Doris Duke. Fresh from rehab and without a penny to his
name, he faced an uphill battle in convincing his notoriously demanding
boss to keep him on staff. A mere six years later, he had not only
managed to remain employed but had been granted control of Duke's multi-billion
What happened during those in-between years is the subject of director
Bob Balaban's engrossing feature. Money, class and sexuality are among
the subjects explored in the film, but at its core, BERNARD AND DORIS is
the imagined story of an extraordinary - not to mention unlikely -
friendship between two individuals who don't quite fit into their
As Doris, Susan Sarandon reveals an acerbic but surprisingly vulnerable
character loath to trust anyone. Although she and Bernard share little
in common on the surface, his fierce loyalty leads her to value his
judgment above all others, even while her closest advisers warn her not
to trust him.
The film is bolstered by the performances of Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes
(who plays Bernard), both of whom bring depth to their difficult, multi-layered
characters. While Duke's decision to name Lafferty her estate executor
may have been the subject
September 7, 2007 (from Newsday)
Old Westbury Gardens sets the scene for two major films
The 101-year-old estate of Old Westbury Gardens is providing a plush
setting for two major feature films set for fall premieres, one
theatrically and the other on cable TV.
The former home of John S. Phipps and his family, located off Old
Westbury Road, will figure prominently in the upcoming HBO original,
"Bernard and Doris." Starring Ralph Fiennes and Susan Sarandon, it
portrays the close-knit relationship between tobacco billionairess Doris
Duke and her gay butler, to whom she bequeathed her entire fortune. But
for a few scenes shot in New York City, most of the filming was done at
the Gardens in 2005. Rumors are afoot that the Bob Balaban-directed film
will have a premier showing at the Gardens prior to its airing on HBO.
December 12, 2005 (from New York Post)
WRAP PARTY AT MY APARTMENT
By Cindy Adams
SATURDAY I gave a dinner at my apartment. Besides Bob Balaban, Susan
Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes, I knew none of my 45 invitees. Here's the
Producer/director Balaban was hot for a script about Doris Duke and that
evil Irish butler many believe did her in. The saga begins 1987 when
previously alcoholic Bernard Lafferty meets perpetually eccentric Doris.
It ends 1993 when he's the sole inheritor of her multibillions. However,
this "Bernard and Doris" movie is a love story — except for the sex. Its
subtitle could be: "Queer Eye for the Butler Guy."
For reasons I still don't quite get although they explained it
repeatedly (and confusedly — especially after thirds on my wine), there
was no money for this film. A feature about Earth's richest woman was
made on less than what you'd blow at H&H Bagels for Sunday brunch. The
shoot was 25 days. The budget, less than a million. Much less. Like lots
less. We're talking: no dressing rooms, no trailers, no limos. We're
talking: yes on using friends and chutzpah.
Having staged off-B'way's Death Row drama "The Exonerated" with Richard
Dreyfuss and Jill Clayburgh, which landed on Court TV with Sarandon,
Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy and Aidan Quinn, Balaban thus knew Susan. He
thought she'd be a great Doris. Susan thought the same. With her aboard,
along came colleagues Mark and Adam Kassen, who run Kevin Spacey's indie
company Trigger Street.
Ralph Fiennes, everyone's dream Bernard, wanted to work with Susan and
loved the role and, despite not knowing Doris and Bernard were real
people until they all sat down and began talking a month later, he
agreed. Six weeks later it was final scripts.
Came the favors. Susan leaned on pals: costumer Joe Aulisi, set designer
Frankie Diago, orchid growers Karen and Ed Grannell, who emptied their
greenhouses because Doris adored orchids and this production couldn't
afford orchids, and Bulgari, who loaned gems worth twice this picture's
entire budget. They couldn't even afford the security to guard them so —
ready? — Bulgari ate that tab, too. Balaban hustled friends Diahn
McGrath for vintage schmattas and Marilyn Cooperman for her jewelry.
Verdura, who'd designed stuff for Doris, kicked in. Donna Karan allowed
raiding her archives. Christofle provided silver fit for a billionaire.
Le Creuset supplied kitchenware. Vuitton was romanced into luggage.
Dennis Basso, the fur coat Bernard wears to Doris' cremation. Bernard,
who pranced about in Doris' clothes (I asked Ralph Fiennes, "did you
really?" and he grinned, "yes"), also did his prancing in RJ Graziano
bijoux. Braswell Galleries in Connecticut came up with antiques. Who
knows why. Maybe for a plug in this column. And Susan/Doris' monogrammed
bed sheets were Pratesi. But why couldn't lousy, crappy, old, laundered,
secondhand linen do just as well? "Please," said Susan and Bob, staring
at me as if I'd gone mad. "Looks different," they said. "Photographs
different. Doesn't fold or lay the same."
Filming was at Old Westbury's Phipps mansion. A public museum filled
with antiques and character, it's worthy of a duke. But the furniture
couldn't be touched or sat on. If you even coughed, the stuff fell
apart. Any actual sitting, lying or whatevering was done with their own
personally donated pieces. Because this mansion gets decorated every
Christmas, they had to be out and done by November. They weren't. Still
shooting in the foyer, they had to position lights, cameras and action
carefully to avoid wreaths that were being hung. Says Balaban: "In one
scene, if you look carefully, you'll see Christmas decorations in a
window. And that's even though, in our movie, the setting is April."
Anyone crossing Balaban's horizon was sucked into service. He met
designer Eric Gaskins on a train. They couldn't find an ab-fab ball gown
in which Doris would sweep down the stairs and couldn't afford to make
one. This guy whipped up an over-the-top bright red extravaganza. It's
not only in the movie, but in Susan's coming Vanity Fair shoot. This new
subway chum is lucky the train ride with Bob was only a short one.
Looks to me like only the pro in the Men's Room was paid. Which is how I
entered the operation. Not because I was in the Men's Room, but because
I now own Doris' Park Avenue home. In '97, when the penthouse came out
of probate following Bernard's death, I bought it from her estate. So
who better to spring for the wrap party for this project, which Susan
christens "a summer camp for acting."
Since it was made fast and cheap, no help from a studio, there is no
distributor. Despite calls from "several mini majors," they'll finish
editing before showing to anyone. That's like another three months. I
can't wait. Neither can my caterer.
December 4, 2005 (from Donegal Democrat)
Ralph 'Roles' Into Town!
A familiar looking figure supped pints at a pub in Malin and listened
attentively to those around him. Listened to every word and every
conversation and went away eventually with some basic grasp of the local
No doubt the casual passer-by might have wondered just why acclaimed
English actor, Ralph Fiennes, was perched on a bar-stool in North
Donegal. Was he here on holidays? Not quite or if it was it was more of
a working holiday.
For Ralph is playing the part of Donegal born butler Bernard Laverty in
the film "Bernard and Doris' which recounts the relationship between him
and tobacco billionairess Doris Duke.
Determined to get the accent spot-on, Fiennes spent some time in
Inishowen recently and apart from visiting the pub also had tea with a
Bernard Laverty is not the only Donegal role the actor will be playing.
Next February he will be performing in Brian Friel's play The Faith
Healer which is, as are many of the playwright's plays, based in
The play will be performed in the Gate Theatre in Dublin.
By the time he has got through those two roles, Fiennes will almost be a
August 2, 2005 (from FOXNews.com)
Sarandon to Play World's Richest Little Girl
By Roger Friedman
Believe it or not, the richest little girl in the world is about to
become a movie star.
Doris Duke, who gave birthday parties for llamas and sang backup in
gospel groups on stage at Madison Square Garden, is ready for her close-up.
Oscar winner Susan Sarandon will play her, and Ralph Fiennes is set to
play Duke's butler, Bernard Lafferty, in a new movie directed by Bob
Balaban. Balaban helped create "Gosford Park" and wrote and directed "The
"Doris and Bernard" should be the "Reversal of Fortune" of 2006.
Lafferty was named by Duke as the main heir to her $1.2 billion estate
when she died in 1993. Ironically, he didn't live long to enjoy the
money. He died three years later at age 51. Theirs was an as odd a
relationship as any that Duke had — and there were plenty.
Duke adopted an adult female in her later years named Chandi Heffner,
who was the sister-in-law of New York millionaire Nelson Peltz. Balaban
tells me that Hefner will not be a character, thanks to some real life
Duke was also quite close to Imelda Marcos, gossip columnist Cindy Adams
and Franco Rossellini, cousin of actress Isabella Rossellini. Franco
died of AIDS in 1992.
The Doris Duke story is a wild one. Her father's death when she was 12
in 1924 made her "the richest little girl in the world." He left her
$300 million. Duke had several husbands including one she allegedly
killed by running him over. Another husband, the playboy Porfirio
Rubirosa, was nicknamed "the pepper mill" for his physical attributes.
Balaban is awaiting a finished script before setting out to make "Doris
and Bernard." And by the way, the movie will be produced in conjunction
with Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street Productions. You could almost imagine
Spacey in the role of the butler if Fiennes weren't already signed.
Doris Duke, by the way, should never be confused with the soul singer
named Doris Duke, whose big hit "I'm a Loser" was produced by Swamp
In the meantime, Balaban's got an animated series airing on Fridays on
IFC called "Hopeless Pictures." It's about as trenchant and witty a show
as you can get about the miserable life of a bunch of Hollywood
insiders. It's also uncannily funny, although Bob and Harvey Weinstein
may not agree. The fictional studio in the show is named for chief Mel
Wax's parents, Hope and Les, just as Miramax was dubbed for the
Weinstein paterfamilias Miriam and Max.
Michael McKean does a beautiful job of playing Mel, who spends his time
cheating on his wife and chatting with his shrink from his car phone.
Other voices are supplied by Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins,
Lisa Kudrow, Paul Weitz, Isaac Mizrahi, Paul Reubens and Nora Ephron.
Balaban has a role himself, and infamous movie publicist Peggy Siegal
plays herself in a hilarious send-up of, well, Peggy Siegal. There are
10 episodes, and believe me, this is must-see TV.
July 15, 2005 (from RTE.ie/Variety)
Fiennes Irish butler in Duke film?
Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes are in final talks to star in 'Doris
and Bernard', a film about tobacco heiress Doris Duke and her Irish
butler Bernard Lafferty.
Duke, who died in 1993, named Lafferty, who died some years later, as
the executor of her estate, a decision which led to a legal battle.
Variety reports that the film will be directed by actor turned director