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Revealing 'Secret Lives of the Great Filmmakers'

Alfred Hitchcock's belly was a prominent feature in the silhouette seen at the beginning of his TV series every week, but we never saw his belly button. Maybe because it had been sewn up after abdominal surgery.

It's one of the choice nuggets revealed in "Secret Lives of the Great Filmmakers" (Quirk, $16.95 paper) by Robert Schnakenberg, the third entry in his "Secret Lives" series. In this edition, the author, who grew up in East Northport, unreels plenty of quirks of more than 40 famous directors, including Woody Allen (he often wears a beekeeper's mask on the set because of his fear of insects), Elia Kazan (not only was he a sex addict, but he boasted "my womanizing saved my life"), Martin Scorsese (during one of his drug phases, he landed in the arms of Liza Minnelli) and Charlie Chaplin (he'd wear the same suit for two weeks straight).

Schnakenberg was anything but secretive when he spoke to us by phone from Brooklyn, where he lives.

What made you decide to look at directors for this "Secret Lives" book?

It was my editor's idea. We had already done "Secrets Lives of Great Authors" and "Secret Lives of Supreme Court Justices," and I guess the publisher wanted to take the series into a kind of pop-culture direction. Film fan that I am, it didn't take me long to say yes.

How did you decide on which directors to include?

We knew space would be limited, and we could include about 35. Some were no-brainers - Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scorsese, Woody Allen. Then we said, do we want to get a woman in there? How many foreigners should we have? Of the current ones, we thought, do they have a big movie that's coming out? And then we chose some where we thought it would be easy to find material about them.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about any of these directors?

One of the things that really weirded me out was finding out that Frank Capra had himself circumcised as an adult. He contracted a venereal disease and went to this doctor to be circumcised because that was a cure at the time.

Well, I thought it was creepy finding out that David Lynch likes to dissect animals. It made me understand "Blue Velvet" more.

Even more [creepy] is that he's known as an "ant wrangler." That ant obsession is a motif in "Blue Velvet." It's just like with Alfred Hitchcock and some of the weird, creepy pranks he pulled and his obsession with blondes. That all comes through in his films.

Who is your favorite director?

I'm a huge Kubrick fan. I also like Scorsese, Woody Allen, the Coen brothers. . . . A great thing about doing this book was discovering movies I had never seen or rediscovering ones I hadn't seen in a long time. Before this, I had never seen "Aguirre, the Wrath of God." There're some great finds.

Have you gotten any reaction from any current directors you wrote about?

Not yet, but I'm awaiting the angry phone calls from Spike Lee.

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