Wednesday, June 29, 2016
The movie business was a tough one, even for the moguls who built it up from scratch. The world was fickle and there was no telling what the public might embrace. One thing was for certain; if the public rejected something there was no going back. The Wizard of Oz was supposed to be a franchise for MGM, though when the movie disappointed at the box office, Louis B. Mayer wrote it off and sold the movie rights to his friend Walt Disney. As far as Mr. Mayer was concerned this franchise was DOA. Of course, the film's repeated exposure on television would transform this movie into a classic. It would be too late for a sequel, however.
All that changed with the advent of cable television and home videocassettes. Cable networks like HBO had hours of time to fill every day, so rather than just buy blockbuster films to air, they would often fill out their schedules with lesser films. Films like Eddie and the Cruisers.
Eddie and the Cruisers had been a critical and box office dud. The film hardly made a splash in theaters but it was nice enough for HBO. The pay channel put the film about a "legendary" singer who (SPOILER ALERT) fakes his own death in a selfish fight with the record label that leaves his bandmates without jobs or a future into heavy rotation. The film found an audience who seemed to enjoy the film's bizarrely 1980's soundtrack (despite this being a 1960's band) and movie producers made a note of its popularity. A videocassette release was even more successful, turning this Hollywood dud into a sleeper hit. The studio could have just sat back and raked in the windfall. This being Hollywood, however, the executives decided to spin the roulette wheel and did something unprecedented- they authorized a sequel to a film that had failed at the box office.
They took the charisma-free lead actor, sent him to Canada, surrounded him with a bargain basement cast and spit out Eddie and the Cruisers II. There were high hopes for the film this time, since the hope was that Eddie's numerous fans made from HBO would flock to theaters this time. Despite featuring a bargain basement Lily Tomlin and 1/3 of the original cast, the low rent film did even worse than its predecessor, quickly losing the money and goodwill drummed up by the first movie. While the first film became a mainstay of DVD dump bins around the country, the second film is often difficult to find; assuming that one is looking to find it, that is.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
When Frank Sinatra first saw that he was being offered the lead role in Otto Preminger's The Man With the Golden Arm, he didn't think twice about accepting it. Even though he hadn't completely read the script, he figured that a prestige picture directed by the legendary Otto Preminger was sure to be a no-brainer. Instead, he ended up finding himself at the center of a media firestorm in 1955.
While the story about a drug addict was a bit edgy, it didn't glamorize drug addiction, so neither United Artists nor Otto Preminger suspected that the film would get rejected by the MPAA. In the pre-ratings era, movies were not given ratings; instead, they either were approved or rejected. Typically, a film that showed the bad side of addiction or crime would get an easy approval. Otto, United Artists and Frank Sinatra had no reason to suspect that the film would get rejected. Otto warned United Artists that he would take a hard line, wanting to release the film, regardless of whether it got the appropriate approvals. UA agreed to support the film and Otto forced the MPAA's hand; they announced that the film would not receive a seal. UA resigned from the MPAA and sent the film out without a seal.
Despite this setback, the film was able to find theaters willing to show it. Frank Sinatra, who was becoming more conservative, was uncomfortable with the situation, as most films released this way were "stag" films. He soon forgot his reservations when the film became a huge success and he received a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar. This film would eventually be one of the things that would break the stranglehold of the Hayes Office. It would finally receive full approval in 1961 and lead to the establishment of the current rating system.
Monday, June 27, 2016
In 1985, no star was bigger than Eddie Murphy. Beverly Hills Cop had been a huge hit the previous year and he had his pick of any project he wanted. Having just signed a mega deal with him, Paramount Pictures was eager to start lining up projects for their newest star. It quickly came to the attention of the studio that Eddie was a huge fan of Star Trek after he had requested that copies of the 1960's television show be made available to him. Paramount had acquired the show as part of a deal to buy the neighboring Desilu Studios from Lucille Ball. While previously seen as just something the studio had to purchase to get Lucy to agree to sell her facilities to them, the show had become quite a franchise for the company. Could the studio's big star and its biggest franchise actually team up? Paramount executives certainly hoped so.
At the time, the studio was in pre-production on Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home, a film in which the Starfleet crew would visit contemporary San Francisco as part of their mission to take some whales to the future with them. Paramount thought this would be a perfect opportunity to put Eddie Murphy into the world of Star Trek. The script would have had Eddie Murphy play a conspiracy theorist marine biologist who would help the Starfleet crew with their mission. As a result, a more lighthearted script was produced. When it was presented to Eddie, he wasn't happy. He didn't want to play a 20th Century character; he wanted to actually be in Starfleet. Eddie had thought he would be playing a serious character in a serious Star Trek movie. Paramount didn't think the public would want to see him in a serious role and they weren't willing to risk finding out if they would. Eddie was encouraged to choose a different project and he made The Golden Child instead.
Meanwhile, Star Trek 4 went into production retaining its more lighthearted tone, though strangely recasting the Eddie Murphy role with Catherine Hicks. She wouldn't be a conspiracy theorist, however. The film did amazingly well; earning the best box office of the films starring the original cast. This would inspire Paramount to give the greenlight to an all new television show- Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Friday, June 24, 2016
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Anton Yelchin, best known for playing Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek prequel films has passed away at age 27 due to a automatic gate accident at his home.
Mr. Yelchin was born in the Soviet Union in 1989. His parents were famed ice skaters Irina and Victor Yelchin who defected to the United States when he was just six months old, having been granted political asylum. His parents encouraged him to try figure skating, but he later admitted he wasn't good at it, choosing instead to become an actor.
He soon found himself starring alongside actors such as Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman in various films. It would be the Star Trek prequel films, however, that would gain him his biggest fame. The latest installment is due to be released next month.
Friday, June 17, 2016
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Otto Preminger had been one of Hollywood's preeminent directors. That's why it was puzzling when he accepted a role on the 1960's campy version of Batman. The normally serious gentleman went crazy in a scene stealing romp as Mr. Freeze.
Many chalked this up to his discovery of a college aged son he never knew he had with famed strip tease dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Others claimed it might have been the early signs of dementia, but regardless of the reason, it led to his next ambitious project- the psychedelic 'today' picture Skidoo.
Hollywood at the time was desperate for something that could register with the youth of the day and Mr. Preminger wanted to impress his new son, so he eagerly began putting together his 'today' picture featuring the stars of yesteryear who coincidentally had also done time on Batman.
Frank Gorshin, teen idol
Burgess Meredith, Hip with the youth of the day
Cesar Romero, Hippie Icon
With a cast more suited to the Sunset Rest Home than the Sunset Strip, this 'Today' picture had a 'Yesterday' vibe. And it tanked at the box office, helping 'Skidoo' Otto Preminger out of Hollywood.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
In "honor" of today's relaunch of L. Ron Hubbard's cheesy sci-fi novel masterpiece Battlefield Earth, we remind you of John Travolta's disasterpiece film Battlefield Earth:
When most people think of Filmways, they probably picture hayseed comedies like The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres. While the studio was responsible for most of CBS' so called 'hick-coms', it also had a respected motion picture arm the sought to identify smaller pictures with promise and possibly prestige. Co-founder Martin Ransohoff had a penchant for finding talent before they were famous, signing actresses Ann-Margret, Tuesday Weld and Sharon Tate. He also produced vehicles directed by Roman Polanski and Brian DePalma.
The departure of the company's principals didn't immediately cause problems at the studio; it still had a lucrative catalog of past productions after all. However shoddy record keeping resulted in a few of its television productions ending up in the public domain. The ill fated purchase of schlock cartoon studio Ruby Spears resulted in the studio almost declaring bankruptcy in the early 1980's. Its television and film rights ended up scattered around Hollywood, some landing at CBS, some at Warner Brothers. Eventually the studio was taken over and renamed Orion Pictures.
As Orion, the studio would have greater success, releasing Robocop and The Silence of the Lambs, eventually getting taken over by MGM who would retire then re-instate the Orion Pictures name.
Monday, June 13, 2016
John Wayne had long been a Hollywood symbol of heroism, the very example of courage. By the mid 1970's, however, he had become both socially and politically irrelevant. Seen as a relic of a distant past, he wasn't getting many film offers and often applied his own sense of morality when evaluating film offers. Since there were a dearth of hero roles featuring authority figures chastising dirty hippies, Wayne received few film that caught his attention. One major role that had been offered to him first was Dirty Harry. He turned it down as being too violent but later regretted the decision. The truth was that Mr. Wayne was too old for the role but had gotten the offer for his marquee value. The film probably wouldn't have been as successful with Mr. Wayne in it.
So when Steve McQueen turned down the Bullitt retread McQ and it was offered to John, Mr. Wayne eagerly accepted it. He was also way too old to play this character, but he went into it full steam ahead. Without the more charismatic Steve McQueen in the film, the script had to be re-written to accommodate the much older John Wayne. A movie tie-in book, written from the original script, showed a glimmer of what the film would have been like had the younger McQueen accepted the role. Lacking a hotter star, Warner Brothers was only able to assemble a cast that was more reminiscent of a Barnaby Jones rerun than a major motion picture. Eddie Albert, Clu Gulager and Colleen Dewhurst joined John Wayne in the affable yet dated picture. While obviously setting up a sequel, the film did not earn enough money to justify making one.
Monday, June 6, 2016
The 1960's were a time of transition in Hollywood. Wall Street's desire for diversification and the shifting sands of the entertainment industry created a perfect storm where corporations who knew little about filmmaking were able to swoop down and begin buying up the major and minor studios. Without an ongoing system to provide product, the new owners saw the opportunity to pay down their new debt by selling their valuable backlots to developers who saw a huge opportunity in building new subdivisions. Large backlots, once the pride of the Hollywood moguls were being bulldozed to pay down their new parent companies' debts. The storied MGM lot was mostly destroyed so that its new owner could build new casinos in Reno and Las Vegas. One of the larger lots, however, was spared by a strange twist of fate- that of Universal Studios.
In 1958, the cash poor Universal Studios was looking for an influx of cash. Its massive lot seemed like a perfect source of cash, but Universal's major business concern was making pictures. Making those pictures required a lot, so what would Universal do? The answer was found courtesy of then SAG President Ronald Reagan who had just handed MCA, a talent agency, an exemption to produce television programming while still operating as a SAG authorized talent agency. MCA now needed a studio lot immediately. It chose to buy Universal Studios, then lease it back to Universal Pictures, using the some of the facilities for its television productions. While MCA couldn't really poke around in Universal's business due to anti-trust issues, its head Lew Wasserman was intrigued by the possibility of taking over the company entirely. Owning Universal's production studios gave MCA a huge advantage. In 1962, the company decided to pull the trigger and divest of its talent agency, acquiring all of Universal Pictures.
The mega-deal created an entertainment behemoth. The enforced divestment of the talent side of things put the combined company on better financial footing than its fellow entertainment companies. The new MCA had little pressure to sell its backlot, which gave it an idea- Walt Disney was bringing in millions of tourists to Southern California for DISNEYLAND- maybe Universal could cash in by offering tours of its lot? The lot hadn't hosted tourists since before the sound era when founder Carl Laemmle offered entry for the price of a dozen eggs, which were still being produced on the premises to make ends meet. The first tours began in 1964 aboard trams designed by Disney Imagineers.
The tour was an instant success, capitalizing on the tourists attracted by DISNEYLAND who were looking for other activities in the area. Plus, being the only attraction offering tours of a real working studio was a novelty that gave tourists an unprecedented peek inside one of Hollywood's biggest studios, thus saving it from the fate that befell many of the others.
Friday, June 3, 2016
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Before she became the cartoonishly derided villainess of Mommy Dearest, Joan Crawford was still (mostly) seen as a kind, successful woman outside of Hollywood. Lesser known were her ties to the Pepsi-Cola Corporation, where her fourth husband had held court as the chairman of the board, overseeing his vast fortune in carbonated sugar water. When he passed away, many on the Pepsi board had thought (and possibly hoped) that she would silently stand to the side, allowing them to run things while she collected her lucrative dividends. Of course, that wasn't how Ms. Crawford did business. (Or anything actually.) When she took her rightful seat on the board, the company didn't see it as a great thing. In fact, they openly stood in opposition to everything she tried to do.
Joan was puzzled at first; why would they resist her if she was bringing Hollywood glamour to the company? Who would hate getting free publicity and product tie-ins? She soon believed that they were standing in her way because they despised having to work with a successful, bold woman who was used to hearing herself described with words beginning with B and C. Rather than tone down her ambitions, she went on the warpath, which threatened the day to day operations of the company. That problem came to a head in 1963, when Pepsi had signed a deal with UNICEF to present an attraction at the New York World's Fair. The project was going nowhere; the board couldn't figure out what the attraction should be, when it should open or even who would build it. As the days wore on, the whole thing threatened to blow up in their faces. Imagine the bad publicity if word got out that Pepsi had stiffed the poor children of the world because it couldn't agree on a project. The board soon reluctantly realized that it needed Joan to use her Hollywood contacts to salvage this debacle. Joan gleefully offered to help them out by contacting the one person she was certain could get them out of this jam- Walt Disney. The result was one of the most popular attractions at the World's Fair- it's a small world.
Stung by the fact that Joan had proved she could do more than just cash dividend checks, the Pepsi board allowed her to bask in the glory, but shortsightedly tried to rein her in by not choosing to continue its sponsorship of the ride when Walt Disney relocated it to DISNEYLAND. While Joan was upset that they chose not to continue sponsoring the ride, she would get her posthumous revenge when Pepsi lost out to Coca-Cola for exclusivity rights in Disney's Theme Parks. Had they heeded Ms. Crawford's wishes and sponsored it's a small world in DISNEYLAND, they would have had the inside track to win the valuable exclusive contract.