Phil, Evelyn and the five girls (Laury is on the way) prepare to board a flight to Hollywood
1962 saw Phil shooting and starring in two movies - Something's Got to Give and 40 Pounds of Trouble with Tony Curtis. In the first named film, Phil's co-stars were Cyd Charisse, Dean Martin and the iconic Marilyn Monroe - Phil was playing an insurance salesman called Johnson, when suddenly the whole project was up in the air.
Something's Got to Give is one of the most notorious unfinished films in Hollywood history. Fact! Filming started in 1962 by a then-floundering 20th Century Fox, which paired Marilyn Monroe with Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse. With a troubled star and belligerent director, George Cukor, causing delays on a daily basis, the film quickly descended into a costly debacle. The studio blamed Marilyn: she was fired from the role, and though she was afterwards reinstated, her death on August 5, 1962 came before filming could resume. The production was cancelled and its footage shelved in the studio vaults, where it would remain unseen for many years. Phil Silvers had seen this project halted, when it seemed as though he would be one of the stars of a first rate movie!
On the first day of production, April 23, 1962, Monroe telephoned Weinstein to tell him that she had a severe sinus infection, and would not be on the set that morning. Thestudio sent staff doctor Dr. Lee Siegel to examine the star at her home. His diagnosis would have postponed the movie for a month, but George Cukor refused to wait.
Instead, Cukor reorganized his shooting schedule to film scenes around his leading lady. At 7:30 am, Cyd Charisse was telephoned at her residence with a request that she come to the Fox lot as soon as possible. Later that morning, the very first scene captured on film involved Dean Martin's character and Charisse, in an encounter with children building a tree house.
Over the next month production continued mostly without Monroe, who showed up only occasionally. The production began to fall behind schedule. By this time the production was way over budget, and there still wasn't a totally usable script despite writer Walter Bernstein's efforts. The continual script rewrites aggravated Monroe's well known problems with memorizing dialogue. Monroe seemed very deeply introspective and would spend all of her free time on the set in her dressing room with Lee Strasberg's wife, Paula. It was she whom Marilyn depended on for support and direction during a shoot, not the director.
Upon her return from New York, Monroe decided to give the film a publicity boost by doing something no other major Hollywood actress had done before. There was a scene where she was to jump into a swimming pool at night and try to lure Dean Martin's character away from Cyd Charisse's character. "Come on in, the water's so refreshing, after you've done — oh you know!" she playfully calls up to his bedroom window. Martin tells her to get out of the pool and then realizes she is nude. A body stocking was made for her, but Monroe, in a calculated move, took it off and swam around in only a flesh-colored bikini bottom. The entire set was closed down to all but necessary crew. However, Monroe had asked photographers to come in, including William Woodfield, for a photo session, and after filming was completed, Monroe was photographed both with and without even the bikini bottom!
On June 1, 1962 Monroe, Dean Martin and Wally Cox shot a scene in the courtyard set. The day marked Monroe's 36th birthday. Monroe's stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, bought a seven dollar sheet cake at the Los Angeles Farmer's Market. A studio illustrator drew a cartoon of a nude Monroe holding a towel which read "Happy Birthday Suit". This was to be used as a birthday card, Phil Silvers and the rest of the cast and crew all signed it. The cast attempted to celebrate when Marilyn arrived; however Cukor blew up and insisted they wait until 6 pm because, he "wanted to get a full day's work out of this woman." It would be Monroe'slast day on the set.
On Monday morning, producer Henry Weinstein got the call he dreaded. Monroe was on the other line telling him she wouldn't be there again that day. A meeting of studio suits quickly assembled. Cukor strongly endorsed her release from the picture. Marilyn's absence of 17 out of 30 shooting days led to her termination from the project on Friday, June 8, 1962.
Marilyn Monroe was to be replaced with actress Lee Remick, who was fitted into Monroe's costumes and photographed with Cukor. However, Dean Martin had final approval of his leading lady, and stated, "No Marilyn, no picture." The project seemingly ended there.
Realizing they had thrown $2 million away, Fox decided to re-hire Monroe. They agreed to pay her more than her previous salary of $100,000. She accepted the offer on the condition that George Cukor be replaced with Jean Negulesco, who had directed her in How to Marry a Millionaire.
Plans to resume filming in October were abandoned when Monroe died on August 5, 1962.
Circa 1963: By the pool are, left to right, Nancey, Tracey, Candace, Evelyn and Cathy
Who could possibly imagine assembling a cast of dozens and dozens of legendary comedians to make a three-hour plus, widescreen madcap comedy with more chases, stunts, and pratfalls than are contained in most comedic productions typically produced in a year's worth of movies combined? In 2009, such an undertaking - considering the daunting salaries of film and television stars - would prove to be impossible, but in 1962 it was possible for someone totry and make the biggest, loudest comedy that would attempt to truly be the funniest film ever made. That movie was to be called It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and Phil Silvers was asked to play the role of the devious, Otto Meyer.
The man responsible for running this once-in-a-lifetime show was none other than Stanley Kramer. An outstanding filmmaker known for his serious and thought-provoking productions like Death of a Salesman (1951), High Noon (1952) and The Caine Mutiny (1954), Kramer later achieved fame through his acclaimed direction of On the Beach (1958), Inherit the Wind (1960) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). One wouldn't expect such a message-minded producer-director to be the man behind a screwy comedy epic like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but Kramer decided to shift gears in a major way and make the mammoth picture.
Mad World boasted a script by William Rose and his wife, Tania. Rose was an American screenwriter who found particular success in England with his scripts for the British productions Genevieve (1953) and The Maggie (1954). Both pictures gave Rose the opportunity of writing comedy material that would undoubtably assist him in writing Mad World - his oscar-nominated script for Genevieve, in fact, even revolved around a race between two men coming back from a car rally in Brighton. Roses's script for Mad World was of epic length - Phil Silvers and the other cast members received two copies of it, one including dialogue, the other detailing the various visual gags the film would contain. I'd loved to have been there when Phil read about the sinking car in a river and fire engine ladder scenes that he would be getting involved with!
For every Sound of Music came overpriced films like Cleopatra (the only film of 1963 to make more money than Mad World) which ended up losing more money on its investment than the considerable sum it did take at the box office. Making an all-out comedy on such an expansive scale was a new development to say the least. Working with a budget that ended up being just over $9 million at the time, Kramer knew that the big draw behind Mad World at the box office would be its cast - and what a bunch of veteran, legendary actors and comedians Kramer and Co. hired to flesh out its deceptively simple plot! Mad World's extensive cast list included familiar faces from the world of stage and screen and reads like a Who's Who of classic comedy today; As well as Phil we had Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Edie Adams, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters. The list goes on and on, Kramer found himself receiving offers from many actors and comedians just to be in the movie, even if the role was a walk-on.
Rose's plot can be encapsulated in a nutshell: Four vehicles are passed by a speeding black sedan on a lonely highway in Southern California. The driver, "Smiler" Grogan (Jimmy Durante in his last screen appearance), careers off the twisting, mountainous road over a cliff. It turns out that Smiler was the chief suspect in a long-ago tuna factory robbery and had been evading police detectives when he crashed.
With his dying breath, Grogan tells Dingy Bell (Mickey Rooney), his friend Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett), furniture mover Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters), dentist Melville Crump (Sid Caesar), and edible seaweed company owner J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle) about "three hundred and fifty G's" ($350,000) hidden in the state park in the fictitious city of Santa Rosita, less than a day's drive away, under a mysterious Big W. Greed gets the better of the stunned witnesses, and a wild race to the park ensues. Many others the motorists encounter along the way, including Lt. Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne, an "Harvard educated" British army officer played by Terry-Thomas; and Otto Meyer, a con man played by Phil Silvers, join the treasure hunt. J. Russell Finch's loud and obnoxious mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman) phones her son Sylvester (Dick Shawn), a beatnik lifeguard, adding yet another fortune hunter.
Unbeknownst to them all, Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) of the Santa Rosita Police Department has been patiently working on the Smiler Grogan case for years, hoping to someday solve it and retire. When he learns of the fatal crash, he suspects that Grogan may have tipped off the passersby, so he has them tracked by various police units. His suspicions are confirmed by their behavior.
If the main group of wackos wasn't enough, Kramer fleshed out into supporting roles a wealth of talented and formidable performers, many of whom had already achieved fame or would later go on to find it. These performers included Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson as a cab driver, William Demarest as Santa Rosita's chief of police (Aloysius), Jimmy Durante as "Smiler" Grogan, Peter Falk as a cab driver, Paul Ford as Col. Wilberforce, Jim Backus as boozy airplane owner Tyler Fitzgerald, Jack Benny as a man who drives by in a Maxwell, Paul Birch as a policeman, Ben Blue as the biplane pilot, Joe E. Brown as the union official, Alan Carney as a police sergeant, Chick Chandler as detective outside of Chinese laundry, Barrie Chase as Sylvester's love interest, John Clarke as helicopter pilot, Stanley Clements as squad room detective, Lloyd Corrigan as the mayor of Santa Rosita, Howard Da Silva as airport official, Andy Devine as the sheriff, Selma Diamond (voice only) as Ginger Culpepper, Minta Durfee as a crowd extra, Roy Engel as patrolman, Norman Fell as a detective, James Flavin as patrolman, Stan Freberg as a deputy sheriff, Nicholas Georgiade as detective, Louise Glenn (voice only) as Billie Sue Culpepper, Leo Gorcey as a cab driver, Don C. Harvey as policeman, Sterling Holloway as the fire chief, Edward Everett Horton as Mr. Dinckler, owner of the hardware store, Allen Jenkins as police officer, Marvin Kaplan as garage man Irwin, Robert Karnes as Officer Simmy, Buster Keaton as Jimmy the Crook (boatman), Tom Kennedy as the traffic cop, Don Knotts as the nervous motorist, Charles Lane as the airport manager, Harry Lauter as police dispatcher, Ben Lessy as George the steward, Bobo Lewis as pilot's wife, Jerry Lewis as the man who runs over Culpepper's hat, Bob Mazurki miner's son, Mike Mazurki as the miner bringing medicine to his wife, Charles McGraw as Lt. Matthews, Cliff Norton as a reporter, Barbara Pepper as a crowd extra, ZaSu Pitts as Gertie the switchboard operator, Carl Reiner as the tower controller, Madlyn Rhue as Secretary Schwartz, Roy Roberts as a policeman, Eddie Ryder as air traffic control tower staffer, Arnold Stang as garage man Ray, Nick Stewart as migrant truck driver, The Three Stooges (Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe) as airport firemen, Sammee Tong as a laundryman, Doodles Weaver as a hardware store employee, Jesse White as an air traffic controller
Phil Silvers plays Otto Meyer, a con man like his earlier character Bilko but with no kind/gentle side to him this time, basically he is a get-what-I-can-and-damn-the-rest shyster. Phil appears in the movie, off and on, for around thirty minutes and in every scene he steals the action. The one where he drives his car into a huge valley, and cannot get out of it, is priceless. The little boy waving to his sinking auto is pure theatre, so popular in fact that Bart repeated the feat in a 1994 episode of The Simpsons called Homer the Vigilante.
During filming in August of 1962, Phil injured his right leg in a comic chase on location. His leg gave way when he and other stars ran through the chase scene in downtown Long Beach. He was rushed to St Mary's Hospital for X-rays, which luckily revealed that his leg was badly bruised and not broken as first feared. He had hurt the same leg a month earlier in a desert shoot and had indicated it still bothered him.
Believe it or not, Jonathan Winters, in the scene in the garage, really was beating the living daylights out of Phil Silvers. Jonathan knee'd Phil in the crotch & everything. Jonathan was completely out of control at this time. The crew strapped Jonathan to the chair with all that electrical tape & then broke for lunch. They returned a hour later & discovered that they had completely forgot about Jonathan. He was crazed from the heat & said "When I get out of this chair Gang, the fun REALLY starts!!"
In California, Phil, and the rest of the cast, often had to contend with searing heat. Numerous locations were used for shooting: Palm Springs, Long Beach, San Diego, Santa Monica, the Pacific Coast Highway, the airport terminal scenes were filmed at the now-defunct Rancho Conejo Airport in Newbury Park, California, though the control tower shown was constructed only for filming. Other plane sequences were filmed at the Sonoma County Airport north of Santa Rosa, California, at the Palm Springs International Airport, and in the skies above Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, California. And for the Big W scene - the Portugese Bend on the Rancho Palos Verdes coastline was used.
While the film was heavily promoted as a cinerama feature, Kramer actually shot his film in the 70-millimeter Ultra Panavision process. Cinerama involved using three separate cameras, anddepended upon screening projectors which often left dividing lines onscreen when these films were shown on television (as was the case with How the West Was Won). Ultra Panavision in contrast, was a single-camera anamorphic (widescreen) process, and Kramer spent months trying to properly project his feature onto the cinerama frame, even though the film actually had an entire "Cinerama Dome" constructed for its opening night premiere in Southern California! It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World opened in Los Angeles on 7th November, 1963.
Los Angeles premiere
The film ran 210 minutes in its preview showing. Kramer cut the film to 192 minutes for the premiere release. During its roadshow 70 mm run, United Artists, seeing that it had a mammoth hit on its hands, cut the film to 162 minutes without Kramer's involvement in order to add an extra daily showing. The general release 35 mm version runs 154 minutes, with overture and exit music excised. At the film's premiere, radio transmissions between the film's fictional police played in the theater lobby and rest rooms during the intermission. The police transmissions featured Detective Matthews (Charles McGraw) and the police personnel that follow the group. These three reports (each approx. one minute in length) may have added to the 210-minute length.
Mad World won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and received Oscar nominations for its cinematography, film editing, sound recording, music score and title song. It received Golden Globes Awards nomination for Best Picture (Comedy) and for Jonathan Winters' performance as Best Actor.
A restoration effort was made by master preservationist Robert A. Harris in an attempt to bring the film back as close as possible to the original roadshow release. The project to go ahead with the massive restoration project would gain approval from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (parent company of UA), although it did require a necessary budget for it to proceed.
Released on January 21, 2014 as a two Blu-ray and three DVD set, the Criterion Collection release contains two versions of the film, a restored 4K digital film transfer of the 159-minute general release version and a new 197-minute high-definition digital transfer, reconstructed and restored by Robert A. Harris using visual and audio material from the longer original "road-show" version not seen in over 50 years. Some scenes have been returned to the film for the first time, and the Blu-ray features a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It also features a new audio commentary from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo, a new documentary on the film’s visual and sound effects, an excerpt from a 1974 talk show hosted by director Stanley Kramer featuring Mad World actors Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan Winters, a press interview from 1963 featuring Kramer and cast members, excerpts about the film's influence taken from the 2000 American Film Institute program 100 Years...100 Laughs, a two-part 1963 episode of Canadian TV program Telescope that follows the film’s press junket and premiere, a segment form the 2012 special The Last 70mm Film Festival featuring surviving Mad World cast and crew members hosted by Billy Crystal, a selection of Stan Freberg's original TV and radio ads for the film with a new introduction by Freberg, trailers and radio spots from the 1960s/70s, and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Lou Lumenick with new illustrations by legendary cartoonist Jack Davis, along with a map of the shooting locations by artist Dave Woodman.