Julius "Groucho" Marx got his start in vaudeville, performing songs with his brothers. The act was unsuccessful, but eventually morphed into the comedy act that would eventually bring them worldwide fame. Groucho's first film in Hollywood was Humor Risk, a 1921 film that was believed to only be shown once. It would take eight years to get back on the big screen with The Cocoanuts. The film was an instant smash, mostly because Groucho and his brothers had already honed their act for years on the vaudeville circuit.
Groucho's last film would be an ignominious end to what had been an amazing career. He had been talked into coming out of semi-retirement by famed film director Otto Preminger to star in a 'today' picture that was meant to appeal to the 'way out' youth of the time. It was an embarrassing film for all involved. His final public appearance would be at 1974's Academy Awards. He would pass away in 1977.
Mary Tyler Moore was primarily known for her cheery characters and peppy roles. During the 1960's, she starred in a variety of films that mostly mirrored her roles on television. After the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary decided to look for a film project that would provide her with a clean break from her past. She found it in 1980's Ordinary People.
Mary starred as a distant, judgmental mother who was a far cry from Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.Ordinary People was a peek into a disintegrating family whose matriarch was trying to keep up appearances. Audiences were enthralled by Mary's performance and she won Best Actress at the 1981 Golden Globes ceremony.
While she was nominated for an Oscar, she lost to Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner's Daughter, though her performance propelled Ordinary People to a win for Best Picture. Mary had successfully shed her goody goody image in a riveting performance.
Gene Kelly had charmed his way into Hollywood, getting discovered by legendary producer David O. Selznick while performing on Broadway. Enchanted by his charisma, Selznick quickly signed Kelly. Unfortunately, he didn't have an appropriate vehicle for the dancing dynamo. MGM, known for its musicals, did. Thus Selznick sold a half interest in Kelly to MGM, who promptly cast him beside Judy Garland in 1942's For Me and My Girl. Gene Kelly was embarrassed by the film, thinking he looked awkward onscreen. Audiences disagreed and the film was a success. Soon MGM purchased Gene's entire contract and he became one of their biggest stars.
By 1980, Mr. Kelly was in semi-retirement. His previous film co-starring Evel Knievel was a huge disappointment and he was satisfied to leave his motion picture career behind. Robert Greenwald thought he had the perfect comeback vehicle for Kelly- 1980's Xanadu. The musical fantasy starred then it-girl Olivia Newton John and boasted a soundtrack from Electric Light Orchestra. With Gene Kelly onboard, the project had an inescapable pedigree that made Universal Pictures confident they had a hit on their hands. They didn't. The film was a massive disaster, cementing Kelly's decision to retire from acting once and for all.
It never used to be easy to get your favorite films for home viewing. Videocassettes, DVDs and streaming services were in the distant future. Even Hollywood legends often broke the rules to see their favorite films. In 1974, Roddy McDowall got caught up in an FBI sting operation that was tracking pirated films.
While the industry officially looked down on pirated films, there was an underground world that traded in them. Mr. McDowall was not willing to go to jail, so he named names. Mel Torme and Dick Martin were among the big names caught up in the scandal.
While the storm eventually blew over, all of Hollywood knew that Mr. McDowall was responsible for the scrutiny and his career was never the same again. Luckily, the era of videocassettes and home entertainment exploded just a few years later, offering a legitimate way to acquire Hollywood's Crown Jewels for home viewing.
Bette Davis' first picture was for Universal in 1931- Bad Sister. Billed over future fellow legend Humphrey Bogart, Bette was extremely uncomfortable in her first role. She spoke of constant makeup tests and was so upset about the film that she left the premiere early.
Bette's last film was 1989's Wicked Stepmother. Severely weakened, Ms. Davis left filming after a week, most likely to check herself into the hospital for treatment, though she claimed it was because she disliked the script and MGM refused to re-write it for her. MGM considered possibly re-casting her role with either Beatrice Arthur or Lucille Ball. Bea rejected the project, while Lucy was too ill to work at the time. MGM decided to keep Bette Davis, rewriting things so that she transformed into a cat and then transformed into Barbara Carrera. A drag actor was reportedly used to dub in Bette's campy lines. Ms. Davis was infuriated. She passed away eight months after the film's premiere.
William Randolph Hearst wanted to setup a multi-media conglomerate years before anyone else did. The fact that he had taken the actress Marion Davies as his mistress made its success imperative. Mr. Hearst wanted his film company to succeed so that he could highlight Miss Davies at every opportunity.
Originally setup at Paramount, Hearst moved his company to Warner Brothers, who were more amenable to promoting Marion, who Hearst saw as a huge romantic lead. The company never really caught fire and its entire catalog was sold to Warner Brothers in 1938.
Stars didn't get any bigger than Bill Cosby in the '80s. He was riding high with the number one show on television, singlehandedly saving the NBC television network. Decades before his arrogance would become common knowledge, Bill Cosby sought to parlay his fame into a film career. Lucky for him, he was a valued spokesman for Coca-Cola, the same Coca-Cola that had just bought Columbia Pictures.
Cosby chose a comedy action film to be his starring vehicle. Leonard Part 6 was supposed to be a big budget summer tent pole that would brighten Cosby's star, make millions for Columbia and promote Coca-Cola. Cosby took the project under his wing: co-writing, co-producing and starring in the picture. When things went south, however, Bill Cosby wouldn't go down with the ship. He blamed everyone else for the picture- Columbia Pictures, the other writers, Coca Cola. It would be the beginning of the end for the teflon Cos.
Lost Horizon was supposed to be Columbia Pictures' big budget Oscar contender in 1973. The lavish musical was supposed to feature vibrant dance sequences that would dazzle audiences who would flock to hear music written by Burt Bacharach. The centerpiece of the film was supposed to be the exciting "Fertility Dance" sequence, which would mesmerize filmgoers with its brilliance.
Except... At the premiere, audiences snoozed through the overlong setup, waiting nearly 40 minutes for the first song in this "musical". As for that "Fertility Dance" sequence? It succeeded in attracting unwelcome laughs. This overlong turkey was destined for infamy.
Studio chiefs frantically assessed the damage- critics and viewers felt the movie was too long and laughed in all the wrong places. This $12 Million blockbuster was quickly becoming a disaster. Columbia quickly ordered 20 minutes cut from the film, including the "Fertility Dance" which unintentionally cracked up audiences. It didn't help; the film only grossed $2 Million, effectively killing off the musical genre for many years.
The original negatives destroyed, the film only lived on in its edited format. The film's disastrous reception never warranted any special treatment and bad film aficionados could only imagine how bad the edited scenes must have been. Until 2010, when Columbia Pictures restored the film to its original length after an extensive restoration. The film was finally released in its original splendor on DVD and Blu-Ray, almost as though it were a cherished classic.
Though the revived print looks great, it is easy to see why audiences laughed at the overwrought dance sequences and creaky 70's soundtrack. In the end, it is astounding to ponder how many people thought this film was a good idea.
While Heaven's Gate's horrific treatment of animals was bad, it had nothing on 1936's Catching Trouble. This short produced by Paramount Pictures follows a self-described adventurer named Ross Allen who captures animals that would later be exhibited in zoos and circuses.
Made at a time in which animal welfare laws must have non-existent, the film is a time capsule of an era in which nobody felt bad about invading nature and "taming" animals for people's amusement. Amazingly, the film isn't shy about displaying the brutality perpetrated against the poor wildlife that is savagely ripped from the countryside by the shameless Mr. Allen. When Ross kidnaps a bear cub, the film retains the sad, pitiful cries of the cub with no apologies and no sense of shame.
How did it take this long for Ed Wood to make it on this list? Sure, this is just the second year of the Film Un-Preservation Society, but Ed Wood's name is synonymous with bad films. The disasterpiece Glen or Glenda? was one of his worst.
Glen or Glenda? was an insane hodgepodge of stock footage and Ed Wood's fever dreams brought to life. Mr. Wood enjoyed a private life of cross dressing and he put this sordid life of his onto the big screen. While the film's producer had wanted a movie about someone who changed his sex, Ed Wood provided a movie about cross dressing.
Even with nonsensical scenes of screen legend Bela Lugosi screaming about strings and the miles of unrelated stock footage used, this low budget mistake only lasts an hour and five minutes. It feels much longer, however. Originally meant to cash in on the story of Christine Jorgensen who became one of the first Americans to have a sex change, the movie instead is more of a sordid look into the mind of its director- Ed Wood.
Last year's legendary disaster almost brought down its studio. This year's inductee actually accomplished the feat. When United Artists handed Michael Cimino the approval to make Heaven's Gate, it had visions of another Deer Hunter on its mind. The modestly budgeted Deer Hunter had turned a huge profit. This hot new director would certainly turn in another success, right?
It should have been obvious from the beginning that this would be a bad idea. Mr. Cimino chose to film in a distant location, far away from the scrutiny of UA's bean counters. The director switched from acting like an indie Hollywood outsider to a budget busting director whose bloated production quickly spiraled out of control. At the time, United Artists was a division of Transamerica, the insurance company. The executives at Transamerica were getting antsy over their ongoing Hollywood adventure and they were looking for a reason to divest themselves of a business they hadn't successfully cracked. Michael Cimino would give them an excellent excuse.
Heaven's Gate was supposed to be an epic look at the taming of the west. Instead, it was a five hour snooze fest. Cimino proved incapable of editing his vision down to a coherent story. No expense was spared in bringing his vision to the screen, regardless of the cost or ridiculousness. A street set built to Cimino's specifications was dismantled and rebuilt because it didn't "look right". Trees and scenery were removed and replanted at great expense. Even worse, the animals used in the production were subject to terrible abuse. Horses were tripped and killed. A cockfighting scene featured real life cockfighting. Animal rights activists protested at theaters exhibiting the film and the controversy caused the industry to allow humane society oversight.
The film couldn't overcome its length and faults. After spending $45 Million, United Artists would only get back $3.5 Million. Transamerica would sell United Artists to MGM, effectively ending the studio's autonomy. Michael Cimino would become a laughingstock, never to be trusted with a film again. In many respects, the fallout from this debacle would be much worse than that of last year's dishonoree.