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Authors: JEFFREY COHEN

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BOOK: A Night at the Operation
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Sharon had been working longer hours at the practice, since they’d just now found a new doctor to replace Lennon Dickinson, so she was especially tired, being five months pregnant. Lennon had managed to cut a deal for a lesser sentence in his case, testifying against the loan shark in exchange for the prosecutor lowering his charges to withholding evidence.
Rosalind Russell, as Hildegaard “Hildy” Johnson, was just taking the corrupt sheriff down in a flying tackle when Sharon shifted a bit, and ended up facing straight up, rather than at the screen. I’d have to wake her soon, so she could get home at a decent hour.
But not yet. Not just yet.
FURTHER FUNNY FILM FACTS FOR FANATICS
Sullivan’s Travels
(1941)
 
Written and directed by Preston Sturges. Starring Joel Mc-Crea, Veronica Lake, and William Demarest.
  • Veronica Lake’s character is never referred to by name. She is identified in the cast list simply as “The Girl.”
  • Preston Sturges was a playwright and inventor (he invented a kiss-proof lipstick, among other things) who moved to Hollywood to make money to finance his plays. He sold a number of screenplays, but became frustrated with the way they were directed, so he sold
    The Great McGinty
    to Paramount for one dollar—on the provision that he direct it himself.
  • Sturges, who was named the twenty-eighth best director of all time by
    Entertainment Weekly
    , died of a heart attack in the Algonquin Hotel in 1959, while writing his memoirs, which he entitled
    The Events Leading up to My Death
    .
  • What Elliot was trying to say on page 10 was that the title of John L. Sullivan’s intended project,
    O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    , was “borrowed” by Joel and Ethan Coen for their 2000 update of Homer’s
    Odyssey,
    starring George Clooney.
  • At one point in
    Sullivan’s Travels
    , someone mentions that the novel
    O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    was written by “Sinclair Beckstein,” a mishmash of the names Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, and Sinclair Lewis, according to Sturges.
  • The cartoon shown to the inmates that raises their spirits is
    Playful Pluto
    (1934). Sturges wanted to use a Charlie Chaplin film, but Chaplin wouldn’t give his permission.
A Night at the Opera
(1935)
Directed by Sam Wood, written by James Kevin McGuinness (story) and George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind (screenplay). Uncredited writers included Al Boasberg, Robert Pirosh, George Seaton, and half the population of Culver City, CA. Some accounts include uncredited contributions from Buster Keaton, but it’s more likely he worked on later Marx films. Starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, and Chico), Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones, Siegfried Ruman, and Margaret Dumont.
  • The most commercially successful film the Marx Brothers ever made, it was also the first they made that did not include the youngest brother, Zeppo, who had left the act to become a talent agent. Which probably bolstered Groucho’s opinion, when asked if the brothers would want as much money for just three, that “without Zeppo, we’re worth twice as much.”
  • Censors in each state had to decide whether to include the line (when Groucho and Margaret Dumont are walking up the gangplank to the ship and she asks, “Otis, do you have everything?”) “I haven’t had any complaints yet.”
  • The famous stateroom scene was conceived by Boasberg, who wrote a draft, shredded it, and threw it around his office. When the Marx Brothers and producer Irving Thalberg (the prototype for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s
    The Last Tycoon
    ) found the shredded scene, they pieced it back together, and cinema history was made.
  • If you think the crowd in Elliot’s office is implausible, keep in mind that fifteen people and a huge (open) steamer trunk fit into the minuscule stateroom in
    Opera
    .
  • Director Wood reportedly (according to the Marxes and others) insisted every scene be shot at least twenty times, and instead of saying “action,” would start each take with “Okay, folks, let’s get in there and sell ’em a load of clams.”
The Wrong Box
(1966)
Directed by Bryan Forbes. Written by Robert Louis Stevenson (novel), Lloyd Osbourne (story), and Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove. Starring John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Michael Caine, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers, and Nanette Newman.
  • Plot: A tontine (a sort of morbid trust fund that gives all the money to the last surviving member) among twelve London schoolboys dwindles to the last two, now older men, who try to . . . speed up the inheritance process. On each other.
  • Richardson was asked to take the part of Joseph Finsbury while he was filming
    Doctor Zhivago
    , and agreed on the condition that he be allowed to wear the same jacket he wore in the Russian epic.
  • Gelbart and Shevelove were in London after a massive success on Broadway with
    A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
    when they decided to write the screenplay. Aside from the film adaptation of
    Forum
    , this is Shevelove’s only big-screen writing credit.
  • Gelbart went on to write, develop, and serve as executive producer for the television series
    M*A*S*H
    ; wrote the screenplays of
    Oh, God!, Tootsie
    , and many others; and has produced and directed for the stage and television as well as film.
  • Cook and Moore performed as a comedy team on stage and television until Moore became a film star with roles in
    Arthur
    and
    10
    . Cook appears as the preacher with a speech impediment in
    The Princess Bride
    , among many other roles. Together, they wrote and starred in the original
    Bedazzled
    (1967) with, among other people, Raquel Welch.
BOOK: A Night at the Operation
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