One of Leonard’s responsibilities was rounding up sources for the song soundtrack. “I always think about this. He handed me a list of music to have prepared for the cutting room and, like, ninety percent of what’s in the movie was on the list. And this was while he was shooting. It was, like, you know, have this stuff ready. That was always an amazing thing to me, all that stuff, and then it was in his shooting script. You know, ‘Jump into the Fire’ crosses with ‘Magic Bus.’
“And there weren’t many CDs around in 1989. So we had to go find stuff and at that point you would transfer a 45 or a cut from vinyl onto a quarter-inch tape so you could constantly reprint magnetic stock of it, but we would have to go find this stuff and fortunately we were upstairs from Colony Records. So you could run downstairs and for fifty dollars get a copy of a Dean Martin record with ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head’ on it.”
Schoonmaker’s husband, Michael Powell, died at age eighty-four in February of 1990, while editing of Goodfellas was still underway. “So Thelma disappeared,” Leonard recalls. “She had to go to England. She was away for about two, three weeks. Michael’s devotion to Marty was wonderful. After a screening of Last Temptation Michael got up. There were death threats against Marty over the movie at that point and Mike was, like, ‘Marty, I’ll take a bullet for you.’ I got to have lunch with him a lot because Barbara had an assistant who had this dog, Elvis, a basset hound, and Thelma would say, ‘Why don’t you take Elvis to go see Michael,’ because they lived around the corner on 51st and 8th. So I would walk Elvis over, and then Mike would show up and Mike would have a plate and a teacup set up for me. And he would run and, like, jump on the carpet to play with Elvis. I’m thinking, ‘Great, Michael’s going to fall and break a hip. I’m going to get Michael Powell killed.’ He hadn’t a care. He would be playing with the dog.
“He dictated his autobiography, I think both volumes, because he had macular degeneration. So he couldn’t read. I mean, that’s the thing about Thelma. She would spend all day with that nut in the cutting room, and she’d go home and she would type out what Michael had dictated, and then she would read it back into a recorder so he could listen to it and edit it and keep going. That’s Thelma.”
I had asked Schoonmaker about sitting for an interview when I saw her in the summer of 2019, and she seemed willing. But after finishing work on The Irishman, and working with Scorsese on its promotion, she went to England, to once again perform an act of devotion to Michael Powell: she is editing his diaries.
Glenn Kenny © 2020 by Glenn Kenny, used with permission from Hanover Square Press/HarperCollins.