Being … Ina
Her son, Mark, recounts how this stylish, inquisitive, and sharp-minded Viennese helped lay the foundation for Washington and Hollywood’s ongoing love affair.
Washington Life Magazine
By the mid-‘70’s, George Stevens, Jr., director of the American Film Institute (AFI), had enlisted Ina as a full-time volunteer and christened her “Godmother of Moviegoing at the Kennedy Center.” Her subscription-based “Film Club” benefiting the AFI was in full swing: a major American film premiere, along with premieres of foreign films, accompanied by their stars, with parties at the respective embassies, and valuable press coverage the next morning. Forty-two countries participated over the years.
As budgets were tight, stars who came to Washington, D.C. in support of AFI programs were often entertained privately at home; I was enlisted as chauffeur. Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Taylor, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Andy Warhol, Alain Delon, Christopher Walken, Marissa Berenson, and many more were at the dining table over the last three decades. Mixed in would be a powerful assortment of film buffs including senators, a few ambassadors, perhaps a Supreme Court justice or the Secretary of State. Meanwhile, at the AFI’s Kennedy Center base, small lunches were held for visiting Hollywood royalty, such as Cary Grant. The diplomacy effectively woke up the Capital Hill members, whose largesse the AFI was somewhat dependent upon, to the vital mission of film preservation and education. The glamour quotient was unusually high for Washington, and so was the coverage — so much so that Jack Valenti, then head of the MPAA, Hollywood’s commercial lobbying arm in Washington, summoned Stevens’ successor and asked her to tone it down. It was as if the MPAA’s presence was somehow in eclipse.
In 1988, Ina created a film festival for the nascent European Community after an exploratory meeting in Brussels; this showcase is currently the only major cultural event involving all twenty-seven EU nations. “They didn’t just want to be perceived as a commercial entity, so I proposed the festival,” Ina recalled. In Washington recently, the EU awarded her a citation during the festival’s 20th anniversary. For the AFI, Ina also created a groundbreaking New Arab Cinema showcase, following a trip to seven middle-eastern countries.
In 2005, she celebrated her twin passions of opera and film by organizing “Opera Goes to the Movies;” great movies of great operas screened at the AFISilver with receptions at the respective embassies: German, French, Spanish and Italian. “My dream has always been to bring Europe and the US together. Billions are spent on public diplomacy but sometimes smaller ways can be very effective,” she remarked.
In Los Angeles for the 40th Anniversary events, I asked Ina if the odd mix of stars and power ever led to any unusual confrontations….
A surprise visit from Liv Ullman hours before an AFI screening and party for her latest film, came to mind. “Liv demanded to know if Henry Kissinger, then Secretary of State, was coming. When I hesitated she told me she absolutely wouldn’t appear unless he came,” Ina recalled. “I had read they’d gone out together so I took her seriously,” she continued. “Henry was a friend and would come to the screening room alone, with his big dog, and watch a film privately when he needed time off. So I phoned his secretary at the State Department, pleaded gently, and he agreed to attend. This was four o’clock in the afternoon! He was very human and approachable, and quite generous. That evening when he walked in, he looked at me sternly and said, ‘You’ve got nerve, Ina!’”
Then there was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first entrance on the Washington stage. Ina was asked to do a private VIP screening for Pumping Iron, long before anyone really knew whom Arnold was; at first she demurred. “Bobby Zarem, the famous pr representing the film, sort of reproached me by saying as a fellow Austrian, I should help Arnold; but I insisted on meeting him first,” she recalled. Arnold flew in from California to have lunch with Ina at the Sans Souci, the Washington restaurant at the time where one went to see and be seen.
“I arrived a couple of minutes before and saw him walk in,” she recounted. All eyes followed Schwarzenegger to her table. “After ten minutes I decided he was more than okay; his manners were very good, and he was bright,” she added. “We spoke openly, in German, as two Austrians. He said to me very directly, ‘My plan is to become a major film star, and I will.’” He stayed for three days and Ina introduced him to a number of people. “We became friends, and some time later I took him to the AFI Life Achievement Awards in Los Angeles; he still wasn’t a major star – the foreign press reacted when we walked down the red carpet, but not so much the U.S. press. When he decided to run for governor, I was convinced he’d win. He will not allow himself to fail – which is proving to be true now. He’s very competent.” Mr. Schwarzeneggar may well have eyes on Washington once again.