Monday, May 25, 2020

Skidoo! Part ONE



In the late 1960’s, Hollywood was offkilter. The rise of television had taken a huge chunk of business from the movies. In order to combat this, the studios began making films that couldn’t possibly be experienced on television- lavish, grandiose films with soaring visuals and wide angles. While this would work for awhile, it threw their business off balance. As Twentieth Century Fox found out with Cleopatra, these big films could cause big headaches if they weren’t successful. The industry decided that appealing to young people with daring pictures that couldn’t be aired on television was the answer, since they could be made for less money. The key was finding a project that would satisfy ‘hippie’ youth and attract them back to theaters. Famed older director Otto Preminger thought he had found such a project- Skidoo.


Otto Preminger was not someone who anyone in Hollywood would have ever imagined could produce or direct a ‘today’ picture for swinging 1960’s youth. He was an older, foreign director whose only exposure to the young people was playing the role of Mr. Freeze on Batman. What made him think he could make such a picture? As it turned out, he had an unknown son who had recently appeared in his life. A past dalliance with famed burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee had resulted in a son that she had hidden from him for years. The relationship revealed on her deathbed, Otto had embraced his newfound son, who was of the same generation as these hippies that Hollywood was trying to court. A ‘today’ picture would be just the father/son project Otto was looking for.


At the time, Otto was working on a shooting script for what he believed would be his next project- Too Far to Walk, a novel by John Hersey that he had optioned. The LSD-laced book had at first seemed like a great choice for a ‘today’ picture; but everyone he had hired to adapt the book had turned in stories that were, To Otto, too dark and depressing. The young aspiring screenwriter Doran William Cannon had been hired to give another shot at the screenplay based on his own spec script for a movie called Skidoo. To the writer (and everyone’s) amazement, Otto scrapped plans to adapt Too Far to Walk and instead chose to make Skidoo. His deal with Paramount required them to finance and release anything he delivered to them, so this dramatic change wouldn’t cause him any problems- those would come later.