Thursday, May 28, 2020

Skidoo! Part FOUR


His ragtag gang of young unknowns and geriatric legends assembled, Otto began the production of Skidoo. According to legend, both he and Groucho took LSD as “research” for their roles. It soon became apparent that everyone involved was probably going to need something much stronger than that to get through this shoot. Otto was in over his head, not just because he was depicting a generation who could easily be his grandchildren, but also because he could never find a way to direct his legendary cast in comedy.

Yeah Jackie, we’re surprised you did this too.

Otto wanted broad, overplayed comedy. He expected the actors to not just tell the jokes, but make it obvious that these were jokes. Gleason was beside himself that this dramatic director would tell him how to make something funny. Gleason knew comedy; Preminger did not. Carol Channing had started her career on Broadway where actors often have to be bigger to play to the people in the balcony, but she definitely knew that was not the way to make a film. By the end of the production, neither Gleason nor Channing were speaking to Preminger.

Skidoo! Skidoo! Even I think this movie is a piece of poo!

As the grueling production wore on, it was obvious to most that they were all trapped in one big mess of a film. Austin Pendleton, who played Fred the Professor, was as close to an ally of Otto’s that one could find on the set. And yet, even he wanted out. He could sense that the film was going to be disastrous and tried to make the best of things on the set. Off the set he placed several calls to his agent begging her to get him out of his contract. Of course, she could not.

Ski-don’t!

For being a tense set, there was very little shouting or anger. Jackie Gleason mentally checked out and kept to himself, but he never raised his voice. Carol Channing at first tried to please Otto, but when he started to turn his frustration towards her, she started ignoring him. Otto’s long lost son, whose existence sparked Preminger’s interest in producing a ‘today’ picture, became the go-between with his father and Carol. She grew quite fond of him, even though she despised his father.

Back then we had these things called ‘exercise bikes’ where you would put your feet on what were known as ‘pedals’.

But the worst, most temperamental legend on the set was Groucho Marx. Otto had amazingly thought that Groucho was too old to be in the film but hired him anyway at the suggestion of Doran William Cannon, the screenwriter. Groucho was belligerent, crude and dismissive. Luckily for the cast, he was mostly depicted alone or with his mistress. Otto, on the other hand, had to put up with him and mostly failed. It would be Groucho’s final movie appearance.

Everything I did that you hated? It was because Chico needed the money.

Despite the insanity, Otto brought the film in on time and under budget as always. Paramount wasn’t sure what the public would think about this picture. Did they have the dud on their hands that everybody predicted or would it be a pleasant surprise? They would know soon enough.