Paul Smith, now Adam Eden, would love to give master classes in Israel
WHAT is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen; one that makes you shiver when you think of it, even decades later? Hint: Hamidou, a BIG Turkish guard, blundered through most of it, beating up prisoners when he wasn’t sodomizing them. Midnight Express ends with the prisoner, Billy Hayes, impaling the sadistic guard on a coat rack and escaping to freedom. The scene was filmed in 1978; Brad Davis played the part of Billy Hayes (the American convicted to life for smuggling hashish out of Turkey) and Paul Smith starred opposite him as the burly prison warden. Davis, suffering from AIDS, died of a drug overdose in 1991; Paul Smith is alive and well and living in Raanana.
Smith, who is an even bigger man today (neck size: 24, jacket size: 68) has made over a hundred movies. He starred as Bluto in Robert Altman’s Popeye, and had prominent roles in Gene Wilder’s Haunted Honeymoon and the Coen Brothers’ Crimewave. He worked with Paul Newman on Exodus, and Burt Lancaster on Moses, and his first stage role as a young man was opposite Faye Dunaway. He has collaborated with Robin Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Peter O’ Toole. Oh, and he shared a flat for a year with Lenny Bruce. Smith’s life story itself could be the plot of a blockbuster.
Smith’s mother died in a plane crash when he was only thirteen; his father got married again to a stepmother who banished the boy. “I left home, worked at night and went to school by day,” recalls Smith, who went on to become an all American footballer and a discus and shot-put champion. Universities scrambled to offer him scholarships; he chose Brandeis where he majored in philosophy and psychology. He followed this with an MA from Harvard in motivational psychology. While he was studying at Florida State University he was urged to play the lead in Eugene O’ Neill’s The Hairy Ape. “I liked the acclaim,” he explains, “the audience loved me. It was a good feeling. I decided to become an actor.”
Smith studied acting in New York, and a chance meeting at a party one night led to an offer to act in Otto Preminger’s Exodus, which was being filmed on location in Israel in 1960. Three days later he landed here, and stayed for a year.
In 1966 he returned to Israel where he volunteered as a truck driver during the Six Day War. Just before the war he went to a club on Hayarkon Street. It was Purim, he was flamboyantly dressed, and so was another reveler - Eve, a Shomer Hatsa’ir new immigrant from Britain. They were both young, both twice divorced and both had one child. They eyed each other across the crowded room, danced together and he saw her home. That was forty-one years ago, and they have been together ever since. They spent the first seven years of their life as a couple in Tel Aviv; Smith filmed his Israeli movies then, including Massada and a TV play about Sadat.
Life as an actor took Smith and his wife all over the world - Italy for five years, South Africa and Malta - but Hollywood was home for almost thirty years. Smith is one of the three thousand members of the “Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences” eligible to vote on who wins the Oscars. Yet, wherever they lived, the Smiths had a soft spot for Israel, where Eve’s daughter and grandchildren still lived on kibbutz. At one point Paul spent a few weeks in Israel to honor a promise he had made years before to director Micha Shvili, who had given the young actor an early break. Shvili had introduced the actor to his four year-old son, predicting that the boy would one day be a director too. “When Ben directs his first film I’ll act in it for free,” said Smith. He kept his word and flew in to shoot Operation Eagle.
Another project that Smith decided to do pro-bono was Twenty-One Hours in Munich - a movie about the Israeli athletes who were gunned down during the Olympics. “I knew Andre Spitzer, the fencing coach, and Eve worked with his wife. I felt I had to be in this movie, it was a moral commitment.”
In February 2006 the Smiths moved back to Israel where they took on new names - Adam and Aviva Eden. Paul, who speaks fluent Hebrew, has one final dream: “I would love to teach master classes here,” he says, “and impart the knowledge I have gained to the next generation of actors. I am willing to do it for free - I have experience and inside knowledge of how Hollywood and acting work. I just need someone to set up the framework for me.”
Just so long as he doesn’t train anyone to be another Hamidou - one is enough to last any moviegoer for a lifetime.