Tag Archives: Mel Brooks

Madeline Kahn, Comedienne

 

Madeline Kahn’s first role was as the dowdy fiancee to Ryan O’Neal’s professor in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? and she steals the movie right out from under him and the film’s star Barbra Steisand. In defense of Barbra, she has stated in interviews that she didn’t get the comedy…but it’s obvious that Madeline did, because she nailed it. I talk about that film here. It’s no surprise that she would become a star in her own right and a permanent fixture over the next 20 years with the biggest comedy filmmakers, like Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Burt Reynolds and Neil Simon.madeline-kahn-whats-up-doc

Her next follow-up film was again for Peter Bogdanovich and Ryan O’Neal in Paper Moon. She would go up for an Oscar nomination, but in that film, 9 year old, Tatum O’Neal, Ryan’s real-life daughter steals the show and walks away with the Academy Award, to boot. Madeline is good as always. She soon found more comedians to work with when she did Blazing Saddles the very next year with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. They really loved her and would spent the next ten years casting her in Young Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother, High Anxiety, and History of the World, Part 1.paper-moon-madeline-kahn-1973

Burt Reynolds would work with her the year after that for the first time in Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love, which was a musical. It played to Madeline’s strengths as she was an Operatically trained singer. The film failed at the box office, however, I believe because no one wanted to see Burt sing, although he does it well. She would work again with Burt in City Heat along with Clint Eastwood.  Neil Simon would work with her for the first time in 1978 in The Cheap Detective, with Peter Falk. Madeline Kahn’s Mrs. Montenegro character is a spoof of Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. She would do another Neil Simon years later for London Suite in 1996. The third of Neil Simon’s “Suite” movies, the others being Plaza Suite (1971) (remade as Plaza Suite (1987)) and California Suite (1978). It’s the fourth made of Simon’s “Suite” movies counting the TV remake.madeline-kahn-in-cheaper-detective

Now all of these films of hers are worth watching, but my favorite of hers is the movie Clue, which came out in 1985. If you haven’t seen this movie based on the board game, it’s fantastic. The cast is amazing and was given some leeway in improvising some of their dialogue. An example of this is Madeline Kahn’s improvising of “flames, flames…” which is just brilliant. It’s been said that the cast of great comedians loved working together on that film and it’s no wonder that Madeline is a favorite of everyones. Many directors, writers, actors and filmmakers would recast her time and time again. She was that good.  She’s definitely missed.madeline-kahn-in-clue

Lloyd Bridges

 

Not only did Lloyd father two very fine actors, he was also one of the most interesting actors in his own right. Lloyd Bridges was a very versatile actor being very successful in just about every genre over the years. He had a successful TV show Sea Hunt in the late 1950’s for 155 episodes. Bridges returned to television a year later in this ambitious 30-minute series, designed to showcase his range and depth as an actor. For The Lloyd Bridges Show, he played journalist Adam Shepherd, who would research a story, and then imagine himself as the protagonist, and the episode would thrust him into a new character in a new situation every week. TV Producer Aaron Spelling came up with the concept, and Lloyd Bridges, later said the show really should have been called “The Aaron Spelling Show”. Bridges said Spelling was a genius. It was a family affair, however, as Jeff Bridges appeared in three episodes, and Beau was in two. Lloyd’s daughter Cindy was also in an episode.airplane-lloyd-bridges

Now, as a child of the 80’s he came to my attention in Airplane, from the Zucker brothers (and Jim Abrahams). This is by far the best of the parody movies, that seemed to flood the movies in the 70’s and 80’s from Mel Brooks and the Zucker brothers. Most of his movies before these featured him in very serious roles, but here he found a new audience as he was extremely funny in these movies. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker chose actors such as Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film, these actors had not done comedy, so their “straight-arrow” personas and line delivery made the satire in the movie all the more poignant and funny. Bridges was initially reluctant to take his role in the movie, but his sons, Jeff and Beau, persuaded him to do it. Lloyd Bridges as Steve McCroskey spoofs his role as airport manager Jim Conrad in the TV series San Francisco International Airport (1970).hot-shots-part-deux-lloyd-bridges

Because of the success of this movie, Bridges would be cast in another parody series; Hot Shots! (1991), and Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), written and directed by Jim Abrahams.  He wasn’t the original actor hired for his role however, as he replaced George C. Scott, when he had to decline the project. Hot Shots! parodies the scene in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) in which Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) sits atop on a piano and sings “Makin’ Whoopee”. That film starred Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges as the title characters, Jack and Frank Baker. In the sequel, Hot Shots! Part Deux Jim Abrahams originally wanted Marlon Brando instead of Lloyd Bridges to play The President. Later in 1993, Charlie Sheen, who played the lead in this series, would go on to play Aramis in The Three Musketeers (1993). Interestingly, that role was previously played by Lloyd Bridges in The Fifth Musketeer (1979), which also featured José Ferrer as Athos. Miguel Ferrer, his son, also appears in this Hot Shots! Part Deux.bridges-lloyd-jeff-beau

Top 15 Gene Wilder Movies

 

Many of us were shocked to hear of Gene Wilder’s death this week due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease, and so it’s given us a chance to pause and think about this great actor and comedian. It was interesting to me listen to a recent interview of his and he said that he really didn’t consider himself to be a comedian as he didn’t find himself to be very funny. That may be true, but to us, he was hilarious. Here is my list of his top 15 movies, let’s see if your list would be similar to mine:

15.  Thursday’s Game (1974)Thursday's Game

This would be a banner year for Gene Wilder as 3 of the movies on this list were released in 1974. 2 of them would be considered to be “classics” to most people. Classify this one as a forgotten little gem. Thursday’s Game was released as a TV movie and starred Gene with a great cast of comedians with Bob Newhart, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Nancy Walker, Valerie Harper, Norman Fell, Rob Reiner and Martha Scott. The movie is about two guys who’ve been going to a Thursday night poker game for years, when suddenly a disagreement breaks up the game. The two guys then decide to keep getting together every Thursday night doing different things, under the pretense that the game is still going on. When the wives find out they are upset and wondering what they’ve been doing all that time. The budget for this film was so tight that the wardrobe department was practically non-existent. According to Gene Wilder, he and co-star Bob Newhart had to make do with their actual clothes.

14.  The Producers (1967)Producers

We mention the Producers in another blog, CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG POST.  Mel Brooks is almost synonymous with Gene Wilder as they made 3 movies together. These 3 are almost always mentioned as their top 3 movies respectively.  That wasn’t always the case, as the Producers flopped initially but found new life when Mel made it into a smash hit on Broadway. Now, of course, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were great in this but, Kenneth Mars is also really fantastic in this as well. I talk about him in a blog CLICK HERE.

13.  Haunted Honeymoon (1986)haunted-honeymoon

I find Dom Deluise to be hilarious, but put him in drag and he’s drop dead funny. Gene and Dom appeared in 4 movies together. Now, if you don’t know already, Gene Wilder was a wonderful writer and director in his own right and this is one of the films he wrote and directed. It also stars his then wife and comedian Gilda Radner. This is a notable entry also because it was Gilda’s last movie before she died of cancer. It did not do well at the box office, but I like it because of the 3 actors and I especially like the scenes from the radio show.

12.  Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)the-adventures-of-sherlock-holmes-smarter-brother

Gene reunites with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman in this gem that he also wrote and directed after they did Young Frankenstein. Favorites of mine, Dom Deluise, Leo McKern and Roy Kinnear round out the cast! Originally, Gene tried to get Mel Brooks to direct this film as well, after they did Young Frankenstein, but he declined and convinced Gene that he could direct it himself. Gen would go on to direct 4 movies and 1 segment of a 5th one. This one is my favorite of all the films he directed.

11.  Death of a Salesman (1966)deathofasalesman

Up until Gene did the made-for-tv version of Death of a Salesman in 1966, he only had acted in a handful of TV shows. It was this film that ultimately put him on the path of stardom. This movie was relatively forgotten over time but had some very strong performances and included some very fine actors with Lee J. Cobb leading the cast. In his autobiography “Timebends”, Arthur Miller says that Lee J. Cobb was his favorite Willy Loman. The original Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller opened at the Morosco Theater on February 10, 1949, ran for 742 performances and won the 1949 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize. Lee J. Cobb recreated his stage role 17 years later in this television production.

10.  Murder in a Small Town (1999)murder in a small town

Gene Wilder would write 8 movies over his career and a segment of a 9th one. This is the 2nd to the last one he would write and was 1 of 2 mysteries featuring his Cash Carter character for A&E. I enjoy a good mystery and for some reason I really like it when my mysteries are a little understated as these two mysteries are. This one is about a widowed theatre director who moves to a small Connecticut town where he gets involved in solving the murder of a millionaire, who was the most despised man in town. Gene is very good in this.

9.  Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)start the revolution without me

When 1 Gene Wilder is not enough, we get two! This one has Gene and Donald Sutherland playing two mismatched sets of identical twins – one aristocrat, one peasant – who mistakenly exchange identities on the eve of the French Revolution. Gene Wilder originally wanted Charles Grodin to play the part of Charles/Pierre, but Grodin declined, having committed to directing the original Broadway production of Lovers and Other Strangers, which would have been really fun to see, but Donald does a great job. Gene liked this film especially because he got to fence. Gene was already adept with a sword from his days on his college fencing team.

8.  Bonnie and Clyde (1967)bonnie-clyde-gene-laughing

In less than a year after his appearance in Death of a Salesman, Gene would be cast in 2 films Bonnie and Clyde and The Producers. He would never look back. In Bonnie and Clyde, he got to work with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle and Michael J. Pollard. This was technically his theatrical feature film debut. Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder would later appear together in Young Frankenstein (1974). Hackman had a small, uncredited cameo as the blind hermit while Wilder portrayed the title character.

7.  Stir Crazy (1980)

We talk about the greatest comedy teams of all time in a previous blog post, CLICK HERE TO VIEW THAT BLOG…but definitely one of the best comedy teams of all time would have to be Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. They hit the list with 3 of their collaborations…almost 4, more on that in a sec…Stir-Crazy

Sidney Poitier directed this movie, and enjoyed working with Gene and Richard, even though Richard was sometimes difficult to work with on this production due to his frequent drug use. When they clicked, they were quite funny.  Sidney would let them improvise during scenes for the movie. This is one of the four movies Pryor and Wilder teamed together, and was the most successful of the four at the box-office. There was no doubting their second match-up was an all-around success. “Our instincts seem to coalesce. The difference, this time, is that ‘Stir Crazy’ is an out-and-out comedy while Silver Streak (1976) was a mixture of mystery, adventure and romance”. Pryor interjected: “You might say that our Pryor picture was a ball but this one is Wilder”. Wilder responded: “You might,” needles Wilder, “But you’ll say anything”.

6.  Blazing Saddles (1974)

Full shot of Cleavon Little as Bart offering whiskey bottle for Gene Wilder as Jim, both seated in sheriff's office. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Here’s the almost in that last paragraph…believe it or not, Richard Pryor was set to play the role that eventually went to Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor even wrote some of the script with Mel Brooks. Although, Gene Wilder was not the original choice for his role either. They had cast and went into production with Gig Young, but he was coming off of alcohol and couldn’t function properly and Mel had to call upon his friend Gene to fly out last second to fill in, as a personal favor to him. One of the best comedy pairings of all time almost happened, two years before they finally appeared together in Silver Streak.

5.  Young Frankenstein (1974)young frankenstein

First film written by Gene Wilder and the only film directed by Mel Brooks, that Mel didn’t write. He didn’t direct anything he didn’t also write, but Gene talked him into directing as a personal favor to him. According to Mel Brooks (in the commentary for Spaceballs (1987)) when Gene Wilder came on to Blazing Saddles at the last minute as a favor to Mel, he requested that Mel Brooks do “his” movie idea next; that movie turned out to be this film. It was a perfect match. Gene Wilder has stated that this is his favorite of all the films he’s made. The cast and especially Mel Brooks had so much fun and were so upset when principal photography was almost completed, that Mel added scenes to continue shooting.

4.  See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)See no evil hear no evil

I forgot Kevin Spacey was in this with Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Joan Severance. Gene Wilder almost wasn’t in this movie. Per his autobiography, he turned the script down twice (due to its treatment of the deaf and the blind). He intended to do the same when offered it a third time, but his agent talked him into meeting with TriStar (the studio behind the film). The TriStar people asked Gene to re-write the script for himself and Richard Pryor, which he agreed to do…and the rest is history. Gene Wilder went to the NY League for the Hard of Hearing to study for his role. There he was assigned to speech pathologist Karen Webb, who would ultimately become his fourth wife. They were married 25 years, up until his death. With its dead body murder plot and villainous crime characters, the movie returned director Arthur Hiller and stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor to the suspense-adventure-comedy genre that had made their earlier picture Silver Streak a success around thirteen years earlier.

3.  Frisco Kid (1979)The_Frisco_Kid

Now this one is probably the biggest surprise on the list, but it’s just so under-appreciated! Not only is Gene Wilder pitch-perfect in this film as a Jewish Rabbi, Harrison Ford plays an old school cowboy like he was born to it. I just love this movie. In his autobiography, Gene Wilder says that John Wayne was offered the part that was eventually played by Harrison Ford. Wayne loved the role and was eager to work with Wilder. However, an agent tried to offer Wayne less than his usual fee and the legendary actor turned the film down. The sad thing about this movie is that it was a flop when released and has had a very small but devoted following on VHS and DVD…but it’s a wonderful film!

2.  Silver Streak (1976)Silver-Streak

One of five movies where actor Gene Wilder plays a man wrongly accused of committing a crime. The films include Silver Streak (1976), The Frisco Kid (1979), Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982), and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Actor Gene Wilder loved his part because he could get to do scenes which were fitting of Errol Flynn doing action or Cary Grant being romantic. When meeting Gene Wilder after having seen Silver Streak, Cary Grant asked him if the script had been in anyway inspired by North by Northwest (1959). As Wilder admitted it was correct, Grant then added, “I knew it! Have you noticed that each time you take ordinary people, say, like you and me, then take them in a situation way above their heads, it makes a great thriller?” First of two consecutive comedy thrillers written by Colin Higgins. The second released two years later was Foul Play (1978). Higgins conceived “Silver Streak” in mid 1974 when he was traveling by train from LA to Chicago. We talk about Foul Play in another blog post, CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

On a sad note…Director Arthur Hiller and co-star Gene Wilder died within 12 days of each other.

1  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

This is number 1 for me. It’s his most iconic role and to be honest, one of my favorite films of all time. willy wonka

According to director Mel Stuart’s “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka”, when Gene Wilder walked in to audition, Stuart knew before he’d even uttered a single word that he had found his Willy Wonka. The audition convinced him even further, so when Wilder finished and left the room, Stuart chased him down the hallway, cut him off at the elevator bank, grabbed his arm and told him “You’re doing this picture, no two ways about it! You are Willy Wonka!” Producer David L. Wolper, however, was furious because he hadn’t yet had the chance to negotiate a fee. After reading the script, Gene Wilder said he would take the role of Willy Wonka under one condition: that he would be allowed to limp, then suddenly somersault in the scene when he first meets the children. When the director asked why, Gene Wilder replied that having Wonka do this meant that “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” The director asked, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?”, and Gene Wilder said “I’m afraid that’s the truth.” Even Julie Dawn Cole was fooled by the scene in which Willy limps out of his factory to greet the Golden Ticket winners. She mentions in the DVD commentary that she thought that Gene Wilder had injured his leg for real (and that the filming would have to be temporarily halted because of it). This resulted in her being just as stunned by Willy’s somersault as the audience is.

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, got very close to Gene while filming. He later told ABC News, “As a young actor filming ‘Willy Wonka,’ I had the rare privilege of working with Gene who I greatly admired,” he continued. “He became my mentor and personal friend. For that I will always be grateful. So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Failed Movies Make the Best Broadway Musicals

 

So what do you do with a movie that fails at the box office? Why not make it into a Broadway Musical! It’s actually fitting that one of the most popular of these is a film about making a bomb, that just happens to turn out to be a big hit…The Producers.Producers

In 1967, Mel Brooks wrote and directed The Producers, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Kenneth Mars also has a great role in the film, I wrote about it in another blog, you can ready that here… The film initially was not very well liked, people didn’t know what to make of it. Actress Estelle Winwood said about the film – “Oh, that dreadful picture. I can’t bear to watch it, even on a small television. I must have needed the money – living in Hollywood weakens one’s motives. It reminds me of the saying that nobody ever went broke underestimating the American public’s taste.”ProducersLaneBroderick

Regardless, years later when Mel Brooks was considering adapting one of his movie into a play he decided to adapted The Producers as a Broadway stage musical and it opened at the St James Theater in April 2001, with Nathan Lane as Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as Bloom. The renowned musical went on to run for 2502 performances and won a record-breaking 12 Tony awards. A new movie which included Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick was released in 2005, but that one didn’t fare too well either. It’s better as a stage play.victor_victoria

Another one to take the stage was Victor Victoria. Originally written and directed by Blake Edwards in 1982, starring James Garner, Julie Andrews and Robert Preston, the movie did not do well. We absolutely loved the film, however. It’s well suited for the transition to stage, as it’s about a struggling female soprano who finds work playing a male female impersonator, but it complicates her personal life. Robert Preston is just amazing in the film and really steals the show with his musical number at the end of the movie. Robert Preston did the final musical number in one take, which explains why he was so clearly out of breath, physically stressed, and sweating profusely during the second half of the number. So it’s very easy to see it transferred to Broadway.Victor-Victoria-Play

In 1995, Blake Edwards decided to transfer the movie to Broadway and convinced his wife Julie Andrews to reprise her role. The hit Broadway musical Victor Victoria opened at the Marquis Theater on October 25, 1995 and ran for 734 performances. Liza Minnelli substituted for Julie Andrews while she was on vacation and Raquel Welch took over for her when she left the show.xanadu

In 1980, Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly starred in the box office bomb, Xanadu. Again, we loved the movie but it was a huge fail. Famously received the one sentence review: “In a word, Xana-don’t”. I think the main problem is that MTV ruined that movie. What I mean by that is, it’s totally designed to be a musical, but MTV was so popular at the time that they put all the musical numbers into the music, with none of the characters actually singing the songs. It’s just in the background and designed as like music video numbers scattered throughout the film. They dance plenty, but they never really sing.  When I ask people about the movie, it’s funny that people don’t realize that no one in the film ever really sings any of the songs until the end of the movie when Olivia is on stage at the roller rink.  The Broadway stage version opened at the Helen Hayes Theater on July 10, 2007, and ran for 512 performances. It was nominated for the 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical and Book.spamalot

One of the most unusual film-to-Broadway adaptations would have to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In 1975, the Monty Python’s Flying Circus cast wrote and directed a small independent film called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It did fairly well at the box office but really achieved cult status on video and DVD. It’s a very funny but strange film. The theatrical release contains 527 jokes, including 42 in the opening credits, for an average of one joke every 10.5 seconds. According to Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones got the directing job because they were the only ones who were interested in it. The movie was adapted as a Broadway musical in 2006 called Spamalot. The Broadway play was a huge hit. The original 2005 Broadway production, directed by Mike Nichols, won three Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004–2005 season and received 14 Tony Award nominations. During its initial run of over 1,500 performances it was seen by more than two million people and grossed over $175 million.newsies_musical_main-logo

Newsies was another musical disaster for Disney initially, but managed to make for a very fine Broadway play.  It was directed by Kenny Ortega, who would head up the very successful High School Musical series a few years later. (High School Musical, being way too successful to consider making into a Broadway play has never made the transition…) Newsies was released in 1992 with pre-Batman Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret  and Robert Duvall. At the time, this was one of the lowest grossing live action movies in Walt Disney studio history. The movie was a critical and commercial flop upon its initial theatrical release. However, it gathered a cult following after its home video release, eventually made its filming budget back on rentals, and was deemed popular enough to be adapted into a stage musical, which premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2011. The musical had music and lyrics by Alan Menken (who composed the movie’s music as well) and Jack Feldman (the movie’s lyricist), and a new book by playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein. This musical moved to Broadway in March 2012 and closed over two years later; a North American tour also launched in 2014. The show went on to earn eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, winning Best Choreography and Best Original Score.Harispray

Now, Hairspray is another very unusual adaptation as the first movie in 1988 directed by John Waters was not a hit, but did moderately well and found cult status on Video and DVD, then was adapted into a very successful Broadway Play and then again translated into a very successful movie in 2007. The original was not a musical, which tells me that certain stories just lend themselves very well to being told as musicals. Jerry Stiller, who plays Wilbur Turnblad in this film, also appears in Hairspray (2007) as Mr. Pinky. Remade on the Broadway stage in 2002 as a musical by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, starring Harvey Fierstein (and later, Bruce Vilanch, Michael McKean and John Pinette) in the role of Edna Turnblad (played in the film by Divine) and Marissa Jaret Winokur in the role of Tracy Turnblad (played in the film by Ricki Lake) The musical opened at the Neil Simon Theater on August 15, 2002 and ran for 2641 performances. It won the 2003 Tony Award for Best Musical. Adam Shankman directed the 2007 film with John Travolta playing Edna and Nikki Blonsky playing Tracy. With $27.5 million, this had the best opening ever for a movie musical until Mamma Mia! (2008).little shop of horrors

Another film-to-broadway-back-to-film adaptation is Little Shop of Horrors. Low budget Independent producer Roger Corman and Charles B. Griffith. The shooting schedule for this film was two days and one night because Roger Corman had made a bet that he could make a movie in two days. Charles B. Griffith took a little more than that to write it. A young Jack Nicholson has only a small part as Farb’s masochistic patient, Wilbur Force. But later, as the actor’s career began to take off, he was prominently featured on the home-video releases to help generate interest in the film. The film was remade as a successful stage musical in 1982, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman. (who would go on to do Disney’s The Little Mermaid and then many other successful animated musicals) The musical premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 before moving to the Orpheum Theatre Off-Broadway, where it had a five-year run. It later received numerous productions in the U.S. and abroad, and a subsequent Broadway production. When it closed on November 1, 1987, after 2,209 performances, it was the third-longest running musical and the highest-grossing production in Off-Broadway history.little shop of horrors audrey seymour

Ellen Greene reprised her role from the play as Audrey in the 1986 movie of the musical. Frank Oz directed with Rick Moranis playing Seymour. Ellen Greene as Audrey (I) is the only member of the Off-Broadway cast to appear in this film. When she originated the role in 1982, it was her idea to wear a blond wig over her brunette curly hair. Howard Ashman originally saw Audrey as a brunette, based on Jackie Joseph’s look in the original The Little Shop of Horrors (1960).  The original script called for Audrey and Seymour to be eaten by Audrey II, just like in the stage play. Frank Oz reluctantly had it changed after negative reactions from test audiences. Oz claims that the difference between the success of the scene in the play and the same scene in the film is that there is no curtain call to remind the audience that the actors were okay.

 

Kenneth Mars, Brilliant Comedic Mind

 

Most people would probably recognize Kenneth Mars as the voice of King Triton in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My brother and I loved him in What’s Up, Doc? as the Croatian Musicologist Hugh Simon. He was a brilliant comedic mind and had a flair for strange foreign accents. He was very versatile and had great parts in the movies, on TV, on Broadway and as a voice-over actor. He racked up over 200 credits before cancer took him in 2011.

To list his “must-see” films, I would definitely go to his big 3; The Producers (1967), What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and Young Frankenstein (1974) . In the Producers, the role of Franz Liebkind was originally given to Dustin Hoffman, but he eventually declined when he got the part of Benjamin in The Graduate (1967). Brooks only allowed Hoffman the chance to go off to the audition for the film because his wife (Anne Bancroft) was in it, and Brooks was familiar enough with the role of Benjamin to know Hoffman was utterly wrong for it (as written) and would never be cast. Great bit of luck for Kenneth Mars who inherited the role and even better luck for us, who got to watch him be utterly brilliant in it.  He was so good, Gene Wilder wondered if Kenneth Mars really was crazy throughout filming and not just acting because of some of his antics.Kenneth Mars the producers

I think it takes a special director comfortable with letting the performers loose during comedy that can bring out the best in some people.  Mel Brooks definitely had that ability. Another is Peter Bogdanovich, who directed Kenneth in What’s Up, Doc?. He was given the freedom on that film to completely make up a fake foreign language.  Much of Hugh Simon’s “foreign” language was Mars’ made-up interpretation of Serbo-Croatian, director Peter Bogdanovich’s native language. He was also a brilliant improviser. According to Peter Bogdanovich on the dvd commentary, the line ” I would like to say I love your hair”, spoken by Mars was improvised.Kenneth mars and Whats up doc

He would work again with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein as the German Inspector Kemp. The movie has so many good actors (like Cloris Leachman, Gene Hackman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle) that nearly steal the scenes they are in, and Kenneth was no different. He’s fantastic. Interesting to note that he had strange accents in all of these movies, and after this third one, was known as the actor who could do foreign dialects, even though he made up most of the foreign languages and accents he did.kenneth mars and young frankenstein

Kenneth would go on to do over 30 years on TV and doing voices for a ton of cartoons.  In my opinion he was under-utilized over the years, even with over 200 credits. He was that good.

The Amazing Writing Team of Your Show of Shows

 

Your Show of Shows was a live 90 minute  variety show starring comedy legends Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.  It ran from 1950 to 1954.  The writing staff had a staggering talent pool that included; Mel Tolkin (All in the Family), Carl Reiner (Dick Van Dyke Show, The Jerk), Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Space Balls), Michael Stewart (Bye Bye Birdie, Hello Dolly!), Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof), Lucille Kallen (worked on Broadway) , Danny Simon (The Carol Burnette Show, Diff’rent Strokes) and Neil Simon (The Odd Couple, Murder by Death).

Wow.  Now that’s a writing staff.  Each one has done so much to shape comedy through the years.  Their influence is like ripples in a pond.

Your Show of Shows 2

A widely spread misconception is that Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H) wrote for the Show, when he actually wrote for the Caesar’s Hour that followed years later.  Another misconception was that Woody Allen (Annie Hall) also wrote for the Show, when he actually wrote for several Sid Caesar TV Specials later on.

Your Show of Shows inspired many great productions through their talented staff for years to come.  My favorite TV show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, was based off of Carl Reiner’s time as a writer for Sid Caesar.  Mel Brooks cited My Favorite Year as being inspired by his time working as a writer on the Show.  Also, Neil Simon says that his award winning play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor was also inspired by his time there.

So, here’s to Your Show of Shows for helping to mold comedy thanks to a very special team of writers!

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner

 

The Dick Van Dyke Show – 1961 Comedy

 

The Dick Van Dyke Show is an American television sitcom that initially aired on CBS from October 3, 1961, until June 1, 1966. The show was created by Carl Reiner and starred Dick Van Dyke, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Mathews, and Mary Tyler Moore. It centered on the work and home life of television comedy writer Rob Petrie (Van Dyke). The show was produced by Reiner with Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. The music for the show’s theme song was written by Earle Hagen.

Now in my humble opinion, The Dick Van Dyke Show, is the best sitcom ever. Many might disagree, but it still won 15 Emmy Awards overall. Plus in 1997, the episodes “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth” and “It May Look Like a Walnut” were ranked at 8 and 15 respectively on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. Also in 2002, it did rank at 13 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time and in 2013, it was ranked at 20 on TV Guide’s list of the 60 Best Series.

Premise – The two main settings consist of the work and home life of Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke), the head writer of a comedy/variety television show (the fictitious The Alan Brady Show). Many scenes deal with Rob and his co-writers, Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie). Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon), a balding straight man and recipient of numerous insulting one-liners from Buddy, was the show’s producer and the brother-in-law of the show’s star, Alan Brady (Carl Reiner). As Rob, Buddy, and Sally write for a comedy show, the premise provides a built-in forum for them to be making jokes constantly. Other scenes focus on the home life of Rob, his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), and son Richie (Larry Mathews), who live at 148 Bonnie Meadow Road in suburban New Rochelle, New York. Also often seen are their next-door neighbors and best friends, Jerry Helper (Jerry Paris), a dentist, and his wife Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert).

Dick Van Dyke Show 2Little Known Facts
• Mary Tyler Moore usually wore Capri pants on the show, but the Network didn’t like it. So they required the producers to put her in a skirt or a dress for a specific number of scenes per episode. So they filmed a scene where she goes into the kitchen in Capri pants and came out shortly thereafter wearing a skirt. The Network eventually relented.
• Because of Moore, Capri pants became a huge fashion craze in the early 1960s.
• The office where Rob works is a re-creation of the writers’ bullpen from Your Show of Shows, where Carl Reiner worked as a young writer. The character, Rob Petrie, was based on Reiner and the character, Buddy Sorrell, was based on Mel Brooks. The role of Alan Brady, was based on Sid Caesar.
• Reportedly Mary Tyler Moore told the producers she was older than she really was in order to get the role of Laura. Carl Reiner later incorporated this into the show causing Rob and Laura having to get re-married because Laura had lied about her age.
• Carl Reiner would often ask cast and crew members about funny things that had happened to them, then he would write episodes about these occurrences. As a result, many episodes of the show were based on actual events.
The Dick Van Dyke Show was the last show to be shot entirely in black and white. The show was due to be shot in color after the fifth season, but never happened because of the cast and producers’ decision to end the show after five seasons.
• For the first three seasons, Alan Brady’s face was never shown but his voice was heard rarely, because Carl Reiner wanted to get a big star to play Alan. Reiner eventually decided to take on the role himself.
• Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore played a married couple so convincingly on the show that many viewers actually thought they were married in real life. They have remained close friends ever since.
• Carl Reiner was careful not to use any 1960s slang in the show. In fact, references to any time period or current events are very few and far between.
• According to Dick Van Dyke, viewers used to make bets (during the opening credits of seasons 2, 3, 4 & 5) on whether or not Rob Petrie would stumble over the Ottoman.
• Rose Marie’s husband, Bobby Guy, died during the series. This caused her to want to quit the show. Director John Rich talked her out of it and she stayed until the series’ end.
• Dick Van Dyke’s personal assistant, Frank Adamo, can be seen in numerous episodes as a waiter, delivery man, walk-on, or just a face in the crowd. He was always un-credited.
• Morey Amsterdam and Richard Deacon were actually close friends. According to Deacon, many of the best insults Buddy hurled at Mel were worked out while the two went out for a drink after work, or a screen filming time out.
• Dick Van Dyke took a big chance agreeing to do this show because in order to do it, he had to leave the Broadway hit show Bye Bye Birdie for which he won a Tony Award. If the show was not a hit, he would have been out of work.
• Johnny Carson was a runner-up for the role of Rob Petrie.
• The show’s production company was called Calvada Productions. The name came from the names of all of the key persons involved in production: Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Dick Van Dyke and Danny Thomas.
• Dick Van Dyke was concerned that the age difference between he and Mary Tyler Moore would not be convincing as husband and wife, but their on-screen chemistry soon dispelled that fear.
• Laura’s maiden name was changed from Meeker to Meehan following Mary Tyler Moore’s divorce from her first husband, Richard Meeker.
• As soon as Rose Marie signed her contract, she immediately suggested Morey Amsterdam for the role of Buddy Sorrell.
• During Richard Deacon’s first season as Mel Cooley, on The Dick Van Dyke Show, he was also finishing up the last season as Fred Rutherford on Leave It to Beaver.
• Morey Amsterdam wrote lyrics to Earle Hagen’s famous musical theme, but they were never used. The lyrics can be heard as a bonus on The Dick Van Dyke Show season 4 DVD’s and blue-ray discs.
• During the final season, Carl Reiner temporarily gave up his producer duties in order to appear in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.
• The running gag about Alan Brady’s toupee was based on Max Liebman, the producer of Your Show of Shows.
• The task of casting Laura proved to be the most difficult. About 60 actresses auditioned for the role before Mary Tyler Moore was chosen. She almost didn’t go to the audition, but was persuaded by her agent.
• Dick Van Dyke’s favorite episodes from the entire run of The Dick Van Dyke Show are: #5 – The Attempted Marriage, #4 – It May Look Like a Walnut, #3 – I’d Rather Be Bald Than Have No Head at All, #2 – Never Bathe on Saturday, and his top favorite, # 1 – Where Did I Come From?.

Dick Van Dyke Show Emmy awards pic 3

Gig Young, Murder Suicide

 

I first came to know Gig Young in the Clark Gable, Doris Day movie, Teacher’s Pet (1958), which I love very much.  There is so much to love about that movie, but Gig Young as the hilarious sidekick Dr. Hugo Pine was definitely up there as one of my favorite things about it.gig young in Teachers Pet

Years later, I was troubled one day to find that this superb actor killed his wife and then himself in 1978, in a bizarre murder-suicide. It was unexpected, as they had only been married 3 weeks and seemed very happy at the time of their deaths.  I can only surmise that his declining career and alcoholism over the years lead him to it.

Gig’s breakout year as an actor would have to be 1948, where he had 3 very interesting roles.  The first was as the love interest of Eleanor Parker in the ghost story, The Woman in White. His next role was a supporting role to John Wayne in the drama, Wake of the Red Witch (which interestingly enough is also where John Wayne got the name of his future production company as BatJak was the name of the trading company depicted  in the movie), but it was his role as Porthos in the all-star cast of The Three Musketeers along with Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, June Allyson, Vincent Price, Lana Turner and Angela Lansbury that really sent his career rolling.

I always found him to be at his best when he was second banana in a string of comedies like Desk Set, That Touch of Mink, For Love or Money and Strange Bedfellows, but that’s probably just me.  He seemed perfect as a slightly sarcastic and just-off-of-center-morally supporting character.

He won an Academy Award in 1969 for his role as the inebriated dance marathon emcee Rocky in the Sydney Pollack directed film They Shoot Horses Don’t They?.  Ironically, in 1951 he may have predicted his eventual fall from grace when he said to Louella Parsons, “So many people who have been nominated for an Oscar have bad luck afterwards.” Which is exactly what happened to him.gig-young-they-shoot-horses-gig-young

His personal life was devastated several times due to his alcoholism. He was married and divorced a number of times, once to Elizabeth Montgomery, before Bewitched, and even once romantically involved with fellow alcoholic Elaine Stritch. Their destructive relationship is poignantly discussed in Elaine’s Tony-winning one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2002), which I just happened to have watched while in a hotel in New York and was delighted to find late one night. He met actress Elizabeth Montgomery shortly after their aborted engagement.

The most interesting account of his alcoholism is when he was hired as the gun-slinging Waco Kid in Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles (1974).  He was suffering from delirium tremens on the set and couldn’t function from day one.  Mel Brooks, distraught, called his best friend Gene Wilder to help them as they were already behind in shooting and the studio was losing money daily.  Gene took over the role and the rest is history.

Two years later the same thing happened when he was cast as Charlie in the hit TV show Charlie’s Angels and was quickly replaced when he couldn’t read his lines without slurring.

His life began to turn around when he met and married his fifth wife, Kim Schmidt.  She was half his age and a successful German magazine editor.  So your guess is as good as mine, why he chose to shoot his wife Kim and then himself in 1978.  The couple was found dead in their Manhattan apartment.  His Oscar lay beside both of them.gig_stry_c