Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Fan Guide to Charlie's Angels by Mike Pingel

Mike Pingel. Angelic Heaven: A Fan Guide to Charlie’s Angles. Henderson, NV.: Signing Stars Publishing, 2006.

Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg first partnered together to produce the TV series “The Rookies” in 1972, a series that co-starred Kate Jackson. This partnership went on to producer other series including “Chopper One” in 1974 and “Starsky and Hutch” in 1975. In 1974, they got an idea for another detective show with three women named Alison, Catherine, and Lee with a title taken from their three names combined, “The Alley Cats.” The idea was pitched to ABC’s Barry Diller and Michael Eisner who responded it was the worse idea they’d ever heard.

Ironically, the same week “Alley Cats” was turned down, ABC approved a TV movie “Murder on Flight 502” starring Farrah Fawcett. A pilot was made from the movie called “The Family”, yet it was not picked up as a series.

Meanwhile, ABC had a contract paying the producers Spelling, Goldberg, Robert Wagner, and Natalie Wood $25,000 a week. Yet they were not producing anything for their contracted money as ABC had turned down their ideas. Eisner agreed to Goldberg’s suggestion that could create whatever they wanted. So Spelling and Goldberg produced what they wanted to do, which was “The Alley Cats”. A script was produced and ABC rejected it.

In 1975, Barry Diller went from CBS’s Director of Programming to accept third place ABC’s Director of Programming position. He came across the rejected ideas of “The Alley Cats” and “The Family.” He reignited interest in these ventures.

“The Alley Cats” was seen as a vehicle for Kate Jackson. The producers wanted an unseen boss. Jackson thought the title was inappropriate and pointing to a painting over Aaron Spelling’s desk offered the idea of naming the series “Harry’s Angels”.

The writers of the TV show “Maxim”, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, were hired to write the show. The pilot included an attorney portrayed by David Ogden Stiles. Neither male character was to be involved in the crime solving. Stiles’ character was deemed unnecessary and was cut from the series.

Farrah Fawcett Majors (then married to actor Lee Majors) was cast as the second “Angel”. Jacklyn Smith was chosen over Loni Anderson and Lynda Carter. Anderson and Carter would later be cast together in “Partners in Crime”. David Doyle was hired as the male office manager.

Michael Eisner did not like Jacklyn Smith and asked her part be recast. The producer refused to do this.

CBS had a show “Harry O” so the show was re-titled “Charlie’s Angels”.

John Forsythe and Aaron Spelling were old friends. Spelling asked Forsythe to be the telephone voice of Charlie.

Fred Pierce, ABC President, asked about the show’s background. Spelling instantly created an answer that the tree private detectives were Police Academy graduates given menial jobs that Charlie then lured to his crime solving agency. That because the basis for the opening title.

“Charlie’s Angels” went before a test audience. It had one of the worst tests in ABC history. It was taken out of the prospective fall 1976 lineup. The pilot was aired as a TV movie with no promotion. The movie drew a very high 59% audience share. “Charlie’s Angels” was then placed onto the fall lineup,

Wella Balsom Shampoo was fortunate to have signed the three lead actresses for commercials before the show was a hit.

The show’s formula involved several outfit changes. Some feminists protested the sexuality of the show. The actresses believed the show demonstrated women could be strong and do what men could do, from driving sports care to playing football. It was also the first hit TV show with three leading female characters.

The show spent $46,000 a year and two and a half hours a day on hair styling.

The show’s original $110,000 per episode budget increased to $2 million a show. Jackson received $10,000 a show while Fawcett Majors and Smith received $5,000 a show. Fawcett Majors and Smith though were given an extra $5,000 a week in product endorsements.

Merchandising of products connected to the show began. Dolls, toys, and jewelry were among these products.

The show received numerous Emmy nominations and won for Best New Series and Best Actress for Farrah Fawcett Majors.

Farrah Fawcett did a posted that sold eight million copies.

Fawcett in particular and the women in general became dissatisfied with the lack of character growth in the scripts. The producers insisted on keeping a successful formula.

Fawcett also had not signed a contract. She wanted 10% of merchandising. Fawcett quit filming the show. The producers sued her for breach of contract for $7 million. The producers claimed her working a year without a contract demonstrated a legal commitment to the show. The producers got the court to prevent Fawcett from accepting any other work. This almost killed her career, Fawcett lost out on filming two movies, “Foul Play” and “Coma”, which were both successful.

Cheryl Ladd was hired to replace Fawcett. She arrived on set wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Farrah Fawcett Minor”. Ladd had worked with Spelling and Goldberg in a movie “Satan’s School for Girls” which also starred Kate Jackson.

Ladd at first declined Spelling’s offer to test for the role. She feared replacing a popular actress. The lawsuit threatened to delay the second season filming and all hopes of getting Fawcett back were abandoned. Spelling offered that the new character would be more comedic and very different from Fawcett’s character. Ladd filmed an episode with the knowledge that her role could easily be reshot should Fawcett return. A limo was sent daily in hopes Fawcett would get in and return to work.

Fawcett agreed to appear on six episodes over two seasons and was obligated to fulfill her five year contract

The stars received death threats. The FBI investigated a kidnapping threat.

The audience accepted Ladd and the show’s success continued. The show even increased its ratings and its standing improved to fifth place.

Ladd did a poster that sold one million copies

Jackson negotiated a $6 million three movie deal with ABC. Smith and Forsythe did an ABC TV movie “The Users”.

Fawcett did a movie “Somebody Killed Her Husband” for Spelling and Goldberg.

Jackson wanted to film “Kramer vs. Kramer” on weekends while filming the TV show on weekdays. She was upset when the producers refused to allow this.

When Fawcett returned to film the show, she and Ladd agreed to break the tension for all on the set with a practical joke. They ran towards each other for a hug, missed each others, and kept running past each. This broke the tension.

Fawcett received a salary similar to the $15,000 to $20,000 per episode paid to Jackson and Smith.

Lee Strasberg taught acting at the The Actors Studio. He refused to allow any students to act on TV. A student, Sally Kirkland, pleaded that she needed the money to appear on an episode of “Charlie’s Angels”. Strasberg relented. When Strasberg saw the episode, he announced that Kirkland was “doing feature film acting on episodic TV” and that she and Ladd were both excellent. He dropped his prohibition against having students who appear on TV.

Jackson was upset over losing the role in “Kramer vs. Kramer” as it became a big hit. Jackson then argued over scripts and help up shoots. The producers agreed to let er out of her contract.

150 actresses were considered to replace Jackson. Shelley Hack was picked. When Hack was told she had to take a personality test with a screen test, she replied “I didn’t rehearse my personality this morning.” Spelling stated Hack was chosen 60% from her personality test indicating how nice she was and 40% from her screen test.

Forsythe recorded his voice in a recording studio away from the show’s film studio.

The ratings dropped, even on the episodes where Fawcett appeared. The show was 20th in ratings. Hack was dropped from the show but professionally finished the season. Hack then landed a role on the TV series “Dallas”.

Tanya Roberts was added to the show at $12,000 per episode. The producers tried to reignite interest in the show by filming the first five episodes in Hawaii with many swimsuit costume changes. A SAG strike led to three months without filming. “Charlie’s Angels” was slotted against other hit shows “Archie Bunker’s Place” on CBS and “Chips” on NBC.

Wagner and Wood sued Spelling and Goldberg claiming they had been denied $30,000 per episode of profits they claimed were due them. Spelling and Goldberg took money from “Charlie’s Angels” and applied it to a show they did not co-own with Wagner and Wood, “Starsky and Hutch”. ABC paid an unknown term “exclusivity fee” to Spelling and Goldberg that was hidden from Wagner and Wood. An attorney at ABC, Jennifer Martin, discovered this, was praised for his discovery, and then was fired. The matter was settled out of court.

“Charlie’s Angels” finished the season at 47th place. The show was moved to Saturdays but ratings did not improve. It was cancelled after 109 episodes. It aired in over 90 countries including being the first American TV show broadcast in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In 1999, Telemundo reshot “Charlie’s Angels” scripts for a new series “Angeles”.

A “Charlie’s Angels” movie was made by Drew Barrymore’s production company. 15 screenwriters were involved with the script. The movie starred Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Bill Murray. John Forsythe returned as Charlie. It grossed $264 million worldwide. A sequel earned $259 million worldwide.

Short and Sweet by Jerry Maren

Jerry Maren with Steve Cox. Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2008.

The little people in “The Wizard of Oz” were managed by “Papa” Leo Singer and are credited as a group as the Singer Midgets.

MGM Studio, as well as Singer, preferred using midgets, who are the category of dwarfism where their bodies to proportional compared to most larger people. Thus, there was a movie industry discrimination against non-midget dwarfs.

Midgets, whose population was larger in the past than now, composed several touring performing groups and circus clowns in Europe through the 19th century into the mid-20th century.

Jerry Maren is the stage name of actor and midget Gerald Marenghi. “The Wizard of Oz” was his first film. During the filming, he became long friends with fellow Munchkin Mickey Carroll. The co-author Steve Cox befriended them and began searching for the whereabouts of the rest of the Munchkins. Several remaining Munchkins did a national tour in 1995.

Maren loved movies as a child. His sister Anita was in a chorus line in a local theater. Anita began taking Jerry with her to her dancing lessons. The dance teachers asked Jerry to tour New England with them one summer. He was later offered a role in an all-midget Western movie but he was still in high school and his father refused to let him be in the movie.

Later Leo Singer offered him around $50 a week plus food, hotels, and transportation to perform in his traveling midget group. Jerry Maren’s pay was later increased to $75 a week, although he recalls Singer deducting about $25 for himself. Maren for the first time in his life met another midget.

Maren was 3’5” when he filmed “The Wizard of Oz”. The movie used 124 midgets with about a dozen children blending in the background. They sang their songs on the set yet their voices were dubbed by professional singers.

Maren hands a Dorothy a lollipop as she arrives to Munchkinland. Early script descriptions have Maren’s character as one of the Little Tough Guys or Little Tough Boys whose weapons were lollipops. Their wardrobe was to show they were part of the juvenile delinquent underclass. One enters from a manhole while smoking.

Most Munkins were well behaved on the set. A few did drink but maren states they all behaved appropriated on the set. Maren was in the most Munchkin scenes and was usually the first to go through makeup.

During filming with Margaret Hamilton, as she disappeared around flames through a trap door, a malfunction set her on fire. Her makeup was toxic, so it was fortunate the flames were quickly extinguished.

Maren worked for almost two months on “The Wizard of Oz”. He was hired to be in costume at the premiere, where he was given the Mayor’s costume.

Maren next worked in an Our Gang film, “Tiny Troubles”. He got an agent Frank Ryan who then got Maren work in the Marx Brothers movies “At the Circus”. He has the role of Professor Atom. This was followed by several radio shows, commercials, and MGM short subject films. Maren was not a stuntman, but he was hired to do a few stunts. One stunt was to be on the back of a wagon that crashed. He often would be a a stunt double for child actors.

Maren did local shows and commercials at the beginning of TV in the 1940s. He recalls acting in freshly constructed TV studios. He was Boko on an early syndicated TV series “Magic Lady & Boko”.

Maren played a mole creature in the first Superman movie “Superman and the Mole Men”. He had a ray gun constructed by placing a tin funnel on a modified vacuum cleaner.

Maren played Buster Brown in a series of commercials. When the company decided to replace him, probably because he and his voice had grown too old for their image, he demanded they remove his picture from all their advertising. Maren was then provided $25,000 additional for his work.

Maren landed a job as a public appearance character Little Oscar for Oscar Mayer.

Maren was in the first live color TV show on NBC, “The Lord Don’t Play Favorites”.

Maren was on the “Andy Williams Show” for several years. He did several comedy routines. In 1967, he did a “Star Trek” episode.

Maren also appeared in the movie “Silent Movie”.

Maren had several roles on Sid and Morty Kroft’s “Lidsville”. The little people wore interchangeable costumes so no one had set roles. Charles Nelson Reilly outwardly disliked being on the show and would cause delays by not showing up to work, sometimes with absences a week long. These delays helped kill the show after two seasons.

Maren also did appearances on “Bewitched”, “Laugh-In”, “The Beverly Hillbillies”, “The Lucy Show”, “Julia”, and “Daniel Boone”.

Maren and his wife Elizabeth did commercial work together as Santa’s elves. Maren was a chimp in “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”. He did an episode of “The Odd Couple” which he considered to be one of the best roles. He then worked as a stand-in for children on the TV series “Bad News Bears”.

Maren had a large role in the movie “The Little Cigars Movie”.

Maren’s next big role was working for ten years in McDonald’s commercials. He did 10 to 15 commercials a day. It was an unusual set as it had been available during shots for one the actors who demanded it. The actors would switch roles. Maren was Mayor McCheese, Big Mac, and the Hamburglar. The costumes were heavy and were very warm to wear while working.

A stage production of “The Wizard of Oz” cast Maren as the Mayor of Munchkinland. Maren also performed a children’s show in the White House.

Maren was a regular these years of “The Gong Show” as the winner greeter. He later was a regular on the TV show “All New Truth or Consequences” and a sitcom “No Soap, Radio.”

Maren and his wife Elizabeth both appeared on the famous “Yada, Yada, Yada” episode of “Seinfeld” portraying Kramer’s girlfriend’s parents.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Groucho by Stefan Kanfer

Stefan Kanfer. Groucho: The Lives and Times of Julius Henry Marx. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Groucho Marx was known for his human that ridiculed high society and the world around him, with lines such as being asked “if we tear down all the dormitories, where will the students sleep” to which his character replied “where they always slept, in the classroom.” He would joke about social clubs, proclaiming “I don’t want to join any organization that would have me as a member” and asked of an anti-Semitic swimming club about his daughter “she’s only half Jewish. How about if she only goes in up to her waist”. He left us with many famous quote including “outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Marx Brothers films impacted culture and politics. “Duck Soup” which had a humorous dictator was banned in Mussolini’s Italy. On the other side, Winston Churchill enjoyed the film.

Jewish communities often had a badkhn, a town jester, who kept people amused. They were independent with no boss and not set hours.

Napoleon gave Jews more freedom. The Jewish population of Alsace-Lorrane, ceded from France to Germany, continued speaking French and resisted assimilating into Germany. Simon Marix, refusing to join the German army, moved to lower Manhattan and worked with Tammany Hall politicians. Discovering his relatives spelled their name “Marx”, Simon became a tailor, Simon Marx. Since other tailors with the name Marx had developed a good reputation, Simon Marx received many customers. Unfortunately, Simon Marx didn’t use a tape measure and he was a good tailor. Simon married Minnie Schoenberg. They were the parents to Julius/Groucho and the other Marx Brothers.

Minnie encouraged her boys to go into show business. They found work in vaudeville. Chicago was a lead city for three vaudeville circuits that toured the MidWest and South. Minnie took her sons to Chicago. While comedy was their only ability, they worked hard at fine tuning their comedic talents.

The flu epidemic hurt vaudeville. Theaters were not allowed to have people sitting next to each other so half the seats could not be sold. Many patrons wore masks which duller any laughter.

Actors were not highly regarded. Gummo Marx dated a girl whose father threatened to kill him when the father heard her daughter was dating an actor.

The Marx Brothers found representation with the William Morris Agency. Variety reviewed their act with the headline “Marx Brothers Not So Good”. Groucho quipped about the British audiences “they must know some language, but what the hell is it?”

The Marx Brothers made it to Broadway with lines “you are charged with murder, and if you are convicted, you will be charged with electricity.” By then, they had 15 years of vaudeville experience and they knew what made audiences laugh. Critical comments mentioned their humor was conventional. Groucho began adding some new styles of jokes. The audiences laughed and critics praised them.

The Marx Brothers’ Broadway play “I’ll Say She Is” reportedly earned investors ten times what they invested. Yet some leading investors were put off by the undisciplined vaudeville nature of the brothers and were hesitant to invest in them again. Irving Berlin vouched for the, and investors then reappeared.

The next Marx Brothers play was “The Cocoanuts”, written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Writing for Harp, who never spoke, was challenging. Kaufman questioned what to do other than write “Harpo enters, and then he’s on his own.” The Marx Brothers were known for adlibbing. Kaufman was once quoted backstage as saying “I may be wrong, but I think I just heard one of the original lines.” The adlibs kept making the play longer. Each night was a different play, especially as Harpo varied his unspoken antics.

Film scholar Mark Winokler notes Groucho used an “aggressive and hostile” voice in an ironic comedic fashion.

One of the main investors demanded that the Marx Brothers have a more disciplined show, especially before critics. The Marx Brothers responded by not wearing any clothes at the meeting. The investor left the meeting. Yet when Irving Berlin and George Kaufman entered the room afterwards, the Marx Brothers engaged in a serious discussion and agreed to revisions.

“The Cocoanuts” included political humor. Told by Groucho he had to register to vote, Chico responded “you’re crazy. Last year, I no register and I vote six times.” When Mayor Jimmy Walker was in the audience, Groucho said in the middle of the play to Walker “what are you doing here? Why aren’t you out stuffing ballot boxes?”

George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind wrote the next Marx Brothers Broadway play “Animal Crackers”. This play had the famous Groucho line “one morning I show an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” The show was a hit. Even critic Walter Winchell admitted he went prepared to salvage the show only to find he enjoyed it.

The Marx Brothers did a silent film “Humorisk” that flopped. The William Morris Agency attempted to turn “The Cocoanuts” into a movie. They told Adolph Zukor of Paramount they wanted $75,000 to do the movie. Chico Marx met with Zukor, praised Zukor, told him how much they wanted to work with such a legend as Zukor, and explained how much and how long they had invested in “The Cocoanuts” and got Zukor to agree to $100,000.

Filming then amplified noise. Rumpling paper sounded much louder than it should. Paper was drenched in water to remove the sound.

Groucho viewed the movie and proclaimed “we’re going to have to buy back the print. This will ruin our careers.” He was wrong. The film was a hit. In fact, the fast paced dialogue resulted in many repeat attendees who sought to find jokes they missed before.

Groucho, a liberal Democrat, agreed to campaign for journalist Haywood Broun running as a Socialist for Congress. Groucho remained the wise cracker, with lines such as “I have known Heywood Broun for 30 years. He had known me for 30 years. That makes a total of 60 years.”

Groucho once wrote to S.J. Perelman about a book Perelman wrote, “from the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend to read it.”

Groucho’s joking sometimes led to trouble. On a customs form, he listed his occupation as “smuggler” and for items to declare he wrote “wouldn’t you like to know?”
Paramount increased their payment for the next Marx Brothers movice to $200,000 and 30% of profits. Herman Mankiewicz supervised the movie. Mankiewicz advised the screenwriters “the Marx Brothers are mercurial, devious, and ungrateful. I hate to depress you, but you’ll rue the day you ever took the assignment. This is an ordeal by fire. Make sure you were asbestos pants.” The writers discovered the Marx Brothers didn’t laugh during their script readings, but that was because they were seriously considering their craft. At the end of the first reading, Groucho announced “It stinks.’ This began a long and complex partnership between Groucho and screenwriter Sid Perelman. The author believes Groucho felt threatened by the better educated Perelman and compensated by belittling Perelman even as he recognized his writings were good.

Cinematography had improved in 1931 since their previous film, making it easier to shoot a Marx Brothers film.

The Marx Brothers had a dispute with the William Morris Agency. They claimed their agreement had terminated. The William Morris Agency sued and won the fee dispute.

“Horse Feathers” was the next Marx Brothers film. Groucho and Perelman fought incessantly. Chico broke ribs and a knee in a car accident that delayed shooting for two months. The movie was a box office hit.

Groucho and Chico were offered and they accepted a radio show “Fly Wheel” for $6,500 a week, which was what Greta Garbo received for her movie work. Harpo received a salary not to be on the show. Arthur Shenkman and Nat Perrin were the writers. Since NBC had no studios then in California, a studio was rented from RKO. Their material was considered by Variety as offensive to “family programming”.

Groucho and Chico delivered the commercials for the sponsor Esso flatly. The early 8 pm time slot last not a popular listening time. The show ended after 26 weeks when Esso withdrew its sponsorship.

“Duck Soup” contained more visual gags for Groucho. While it was claimed to be a movie of comedic entertainment, its anti-fascist tone in 1933 served as an early warning to emerging fascism. It also contained tones that would resonate decades later. Chico argued for a standing army “because then we save money on chairs”. Told it was a gala day for Groucho, Groucho replied “that’s plenty. I don’t think I could handle more than a gal a day.” Film historian Andrew Bergman called “Duck Soup” “a vaudeville “All Quiet of the Western Front.””

The American Oil Company sponsored a radio show “Marx of Time” with Groucho and Chico. It last eight weeks.

Groucho presumed that was the end of his film career. Yet Irving Thalberg at MGM saw a future in more Marx Brothers films. Thalberg wanted to make movies with more stories and less laughs. The story had meant little in previous Marx Brothers films. Chico demanded the brothers received 15% of gross. Thalberg agreed. Groucho insisted Kaufman and Ryskind write their next movie, “A Night at the Opera”. Kaufman received $5,000 a week with $100,000 minimum. Ryskind received $1,000 a week.

Ryskind recalls giving Thalberg the opening dialogue to the movie. Thalberg read it without laughing or displaying any emotion. Thalberg then announced it was the funniest thing he had ever read.

Thalberg kept delaying negotiations with the Marx Brothers. During their meeting, he left them alone in his office. When he returned, he found the brothers totally nude pretending to cook in his fake fireplace. When he delayed a meeting a second time, the brothers blocked his door with a cabinet that took an hour to get the door open.

MGM hired two sets of writers to work on a final script and, which was custom then, did not tell either set of writers about the other set.

The film industry, which had been hurt by the Depression since 1931, returned to profitability in 1936. Groucho was worried about financial security, especially as he noticed actors who once earned $1,000 a week being grateful for walk-on roles in his movies.

For their next film, “A Night at the Opera”, the Marx Brothers again tried routines before live audiences. They hired actors to play their roles for the last two weeks while they watched from the orchestra.

Irving Thalberg had been warned by doctors that his heart needed to avoid stress. Yet Thalberg worked long hours. Thalberg died suddenly. Groucho stated “After Thalberg died, my interest in the movies waned…The fun had gone out of filmmaking. I was like an old pug, still going through the motions, but now doing it solely for the money.”

Laurence Weingarten, Thalberg’s brother in law, became the Marx Brothers’ new producer. Weingarten believed in keeping Marx Brothers movies to a set formula. “A Day at the Races” was the most profitable Marx Brothers movie, grossing $5 million, which was five times more than it cost. Louis B. Mayer wasn’t a fan of the Marx Brothers but he liked the profits they brought the studio.

Groucho and Chico were criminally indicted for plagiarism. Garnett Graham and Carroll Graham, brothers, claimed they wrote a radio sketch Groucho and Chico performed. The Marx brothers claimed the skit was written by Al Boasberg and that the Graham brothers at most had made minimal contributions. Boasberg had since died. The court ruled for the Grahams. Groucho and Chico could have been imprisoned for one year yet they were fined $1,000 each.

Groucho and Charlie Chaplin played tennis. In the middle of the match, Groucho set up a tablecloth on the court and gave sandwiches to those around them. Chaplin told Groucho “I didn’t come here to be your straight man” and didn’t forgive Groucho years afterwards.

Groucho was a New Dealer. He met Hollywood Reds and concluded they were “the kind of hypocrites who would sing “Arise You Prisoners of Starvation” inbetween laps around their swimming pools.”

RKO spent half a million dollars for the talent and set of the next Marx Brothers movie “Room Service”, Yet one elaborate set is not good for the movies, where audiences expect more diverse scenes. A new talent, Lucille Ball, appears in the film yet her comedic skills had yet to be discovered and she has a straight role.

The Marx Brothers worked hurriedly. Groucho explained “it was the first time we tried doing a play we hadn’t created ourselves. We can’t do that. We’ve got to organize the characters and situations ourselves. Then we can do them. Then they’re us. Groucho was convinced the film would bomb and was surprised at the good reviews. The movie, though, made 7% less than the average RKO film made. The Marx Brothers went back to MGM, where they were still contracted to produce two more films, and where Groucho feared Louis B. Mayer wanted them to fail. Mayer had a reputation for being vindictive.

The next movie “At the Circus” required a man in a gorilla suit. The suit was hot, so the actor cut holes in the suit for ventilation. This upset the owner of the gorilla suit who stormed off with the suit. A orangutan suit was purchased, which Groucho noted “even a child knows an orangutan is much smaller than a gorilla. The actor could not fit into the orangutan suit and broke into tears. Another actor who could fit into the suit was hired. Union demands required paying both actors as well as the first actor’s psychiatric help for the trauma of not fitting into the orangutan suit. The movie included Groucho singing a song that included “when she stands the world grows littler, when she sits, she sits on Hitler.”

Buster Keaton, who once made $150,000 a week as a silent movie star, was then a $100 a week gag writer at MGM. Keaton suggested a few gags for “At the Circus” which Groucho rejected.

“At the Circus” suffered from continuity problems. Groucho appears on a train that had left without him. A scene getting Groucho on the train was cut by MGM to save money by reducing the shooting schedule. MGM presumed audiences wouldn’t expect continuity in a Marx Brothers film. In addition, MGM gave Grouch such a manufactured look with a toupee that the poster used for the film had screenwriter Irving Brechler made to look like Groucho in the photo with Chico and Harpo. The movie also suffered from exaggerated racial stereotyped scenes.

Jack Cummings, nephew to Louis B. Mayer, was assigned as the new producer of Marx Brothers movies. He, like his uncle, also did not care for their movies. Yet he believe the way to increase profits was to return to their old formula. For the next film, “Go West”, they tried routines in front of theater audiences.

The Marx Brothers approaches their next film “The Big Store” unenthusiastically. Nat Perrin wrote the script with the help of gag writers Hal Fimberg and two others who used to write for the Ritz Brothers, Ray Golden and Sid Kuller. The gag writers were more experienced with slap stick comedy. Only Chico approached the first script reading with any enthusiasm. Yet by page 15, Chico fell asleep.

During filming, Groucho added a life after Margaret Dumont’s line “I’m afraid after we’ve been married awhile, a beautiful girl will come along and you’ll forget all about me” to which Groucho added “Nonsense! I’ll write you twice a week.” Producer L.K Sidney cut the line and was upset at a preview to see the line reappear. Louis B. Mayer, though, proclaimed it the “greatest line in the picture” and it remained.

Groucho and Harpo, with Chico’s consent due to his gambling habit, placed he Chico couldn’t touch that was kept for his retirement. Chico obtained gambling debts and feared the mob he owed money to would kill him. Groucho and Harpo refused to advance Chico the money. Thus, during the filming of “The Big Store”, a scared Chico was in the midst of suing his brothers to get money. Groucho told a reporter this would be the last time he worked with his brothers. The film opened to positive critical acclaim in 1941.

Groucho was once tending to his garden when someone drove by and asked him “oh, gardner, how much does the lady of the house pay you a month?” Groucho replied “oh, I don’t get paid in dollars. The lady of the house just lets me sleep with her.”

Groucho made numerous radio show appearances and appeared regularly on a Sealtest Rudy Vallee and Joan Davis show. Abbott and Costello became the new big comedy movie stars.

In 1943, Groucho’s agent brothers Gummo and Zeppo get Groucho a radio show for $2,500 a show. Leo Gorcey was a co-star, who at the time was going through a very volatile marriage.

The Marx Brothers formed their own film company, Lorna Vista, and made plans to film to movie “A Night at Casablanca”. Warner Brothers had released the movie “Casablanca” four years earlier. Their legal department wrote to inquire if Warner Brothers property rights were being violated. Groucho, tongue in cheek, wrote back “I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers…I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I would certainly like to try…What about Warner Brothers? Do you own that, too? You probably have the right to Warner, but who about Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were.”

Margaret Dumont feared being in Marx Brothers movies ruined her dramatic career. She declined to be in “A Night in Casablanca”.

Groucho returned to radio and then to Broadway.

In 1949, Groucho won radio’s top honor, the Peabody Award. ABC Radio was concerned that ratings dropped sharply for substitute programming during the time Groucho was on vacation. Groucho impressed ABC executives with figures he made up claiming that a typical listener only catches a show once every 3.4 times. He offered that ratings during his time slot when he was away would be higher if people who missed an original broadcast could catchy a repeat broadcast. The ABC brass was impressed. Thus, Groucho invented the re-run.

There were ten TV stations broadcasting to 160,000 TV sets in 1947. In 1948, over a million TV sets were sold.

The Marx Brothers filmed the movie “Love Happy”. Groucho happily took a smaller role and let Chico and Harpo have large roles. Groucho, though, was displeased to receive only $15,000, half what he usually received. Political humor included a Congressman telling Groucho’s character “this is my third term” to which Groucho replied, “better look out. One more offense and you’ll get life.” The movie is noted for Groucho’s casting decision of Marilyn Monroe for a one line part. Monroe’s character stated “ten men are following me” to which Groucho replied “I can’t understand why”.

William Palen, CBS President, tried to get Groucho to switch to CBS. Paley told Groucho “look, you’re a Jew and I’m a Jews. We should stick together.” Groucho found that insulting. Further, David Sarnoff at NBC was also Jewish. Groucho signed with NBC for $760,000 a year guaranteed for 10 years plus $48,000 a week during 39 weeks of broadcasting. Thus, a TV version of “You Bet Your Life” was created.

Groucho filmed “Double Dynamite” with Frank Sinatra. Groucho was upset at Sinatra’s frequent tardiness and warned him “I believe in being on time to work. The next time you show up late, you’d better be prepared to act for two because I won’t be there.” Sinatra was then always on time.

Groucho appeared in producer Irwin Allen’s “The Story of Mankind”. Allen also hired Chico and Harpo to appear in different scenes. Although none of the brothers appeared together, the movie was advertised as a Marx Brothers film.

A scandal involved big money quiz show helped boost Groucho’s small money, more entertainment intent quiz show to the top of the quiz show ratings.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bonnie Blue Butler by Cammie King Conlon

Cammie King Conlon. Bonnie Blue Butler: A Gone With the Wind Memoir. Fort Braggs, Ca.: Cypress House, 2009.

The author was chosen for a role in “Gone With the Wind” at age five. Years later she would read of imposters claiming to have been her in that role.

There was much media speculation for years over who would be cast in this movie. Many wanted Clark Gable to star. Yet Clark Gable feared people were placing too high expectations on the role. Gable needed to be coaxed into accepting the part.

The author was told she was cast because someone at Selznick Studios had stated that her older sister Diane looked like she could be the daughter of the leaders Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh, who would play her parents in the movie. Yet six months later, Diane looked too old for the role and Cammie, the younger sister, was cast. Cammie disbelieves this casting story. Only four months stood between when Vivian Leigh and she were cast. She found records stating she had passed intelligence and acting abilities tests. Plus, she was being promoted for the role. She now believe her mother invented the story so her sister wouldn’t feel jealous.

The author remembers filming at the Selznick Studios lot, where the house known as Tara was a studio home. She notes that several times people have insisted to her they lived in an actual house that was used as Tara.

The author remembers how hot it was to wear heavy 19th century costumes under movie lights. Lights in 1939 were indeed warmer than lights used today. She also recalls the smell of heated metal and wood. The smell was one that felt enticing to be an actress.

One the author forgot her lines. The director Victor Fleming made her feel guilty, although she never again forgot her line. He did this by telling her “Cammie, do you see all these men working with us…They all have little girls and boys at home to take care of and that’s why they come to work every day. And Cammie, when you don’t know your lines, we can’t do our jobs and take care of our children.”

The author went to a riding academy to learn to ride a horse for her part. She learned to do more than what was needed within a month. During filming, she was surprised to learn her horse had a double for when the lead horse wouldn’t follow directions.

The author was also surprised to learn that she had a stunt double when she saw someone dressed just like her on another horse. She was further surprised to discover her double was a 30 year old man.

A mask was made of the author’s face. She blinked when her eyes closed, so a still mask was placed over her face for the scene when her character dies. Clark Gable is seen holding her while wearing the mask.

The author’s mother was her hairdresser, something in retrospect means union rules were likely circumvented.

The crew spoiled her by giving her gifts and sneaking her gum, which her parents did not allow. A camera operator, Arthur Arling, told her years later she stuck her gum on is camera.

King recalls Clark Gable’s moustache scratched when, as playing her father, he kissed her.

King’s mother was, in her opinion, a stage mother. They lived near the studios. Her mother took publicity shots and ran them in industry publications when she was three.

King was the voice of Faline in “Bambi”. She then received a role in the movie “Men in White”. Yet she developed chicken pox on the first day of shooting. Her movie career was over.

King knew Judy Lewis, Gable’s illegitimate daughter who did not receive final confirmation that Gable was her father until 2000. King learned later while reading Lewis’s autobiography that she used to pretend that Gable was thinking of her when he held King in the movie. King never realized the extent of her friend’s pain prior to that.

King filmed a scene with Vivian Leigh discussing their hopes that Leigh’s character would reunite with Gable’s character. The scene was cut from the movei.

King worked for four weeks on “Gone With the Wind” for which she was paid $250.

Year later King learned four girls read her lines to dub voice. She is not certain whose voice was used. One movie expert told her the voice used sounds the same as her voice in “Bambi”.