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“HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY”  My rating: B+

94 minutes | No MPAA rating

If Harold and Lillian Michelson had been, say, an accountant and a waitress, the story of their long marriage would be compelling enough.

But as fate and luck would have it, these two East Coast natives found their calling in Hollywood. In a town filled with egos and eccentricities, they embodied the sort of rock-solid relationship that set a high bar on Tinseltown matrimony.

This unusual (yet amazingly down to earth) couple emerge as quiet heroes in Daniel Raim’s fascinating, informative and inspiring “Helen and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story.”

Harold was a storyboard artist and later an art director and production designer. Lillian ran her own research library, amassing a vast collection of books on just about everything that could be used by filmmakers to research their projects.

As the years passed they raised three sons (one of them autistic) and became  touchstones of sorts for other movie folk. They were decent, kind, hard-working and unbelievably talented.

“You felt you were with the best of Hollywood as it can be as a lifestyle,” said one colleague. (That explains why the makers of the animated “Shrek” based the characters of the king and queen on the Michelsons.)

Harold went from advertising art to movie storyboarding with Cecille B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”  In filmed interviews (he died a decade ago) Harold says he never met DeMille. He just looked at the script, made pen and charcoal drawings of what each shot might look like on the screen, and sent them up the chain of command.

Nevertheless, when you compare the finished film with Harold’s drawings you realize that DeMille and Co. were pretty much copying what Harold had given them, right down to the type of camera lens required for a specific shot.

Remember the famous shot in “The Graduate” in which a nervous Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is framed by the triangle of Mrs. Robinson’s (Anne Bancroft) thigh and calf?  That was Harold Michelson’s idea.

“The Graduate”

Also the sequence in which Benjamin dives into a swimming pool and surfaces to throw himself on a floating air mattress…which instantly becomes Mrs. Robinson on a hotel bed.

There’s a reason most movie storyboards go missing, says one Hollywood insider. No director wants to admit the best visual ideas in his film came from the storyboard artist.

Mel Brooks, for whom Harold storyboarded “Spaceballs,” recalled that his ideas were the difference between just OK and terrific. Harold produced “little goodies that made you look like a great filmmaker.”

Danny DeVito, a longtime friend and collaborator (and a producer of this doc), says of the process: “You’re directing through sketches.”

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