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Other Voices

By Other Voices

Bill Tush: January 13, 2004

It was a movie about a Broadway play. It became a real Broadway play. And now it is going to be a movie again. Of course, I’m talking about Mel Brook‘s The ProducersDaily Variety reports that the two stars, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane have signed to re-create the roles they re-created for Broadway for the movies.

As I’m sure you know, The Producers is the biggest hit in theatre history, winning a record breaking 12 Tony awards in 2001. But when Broderick and Lane left after their initial run ticket sales dropped off and the Los Angeles production starring Jason Alexander and Martin Shortwas considered a poor copy. Broderick and Lane have since returned as the two shyster producers trying to put on a play that will flop, leaving them with the unused funds they raised. Their salary these days for actually playing these guys is a hundred grand a week, for fourteen weeks.

The original film was a low-budget flop. Brooks, who had never directed, wanted to helm the film, which he also wrote. The studios would have nothing to do with a picture that had a big production number called “Springtime for Hitler.” It seemed nobody quite got it, from producers to moviegoers, especially outside of New York City where it was set.

If you want to read more about the making of The Producers check out the fascinating article in the current Vanity Fair. I remember being a twenty-year-old disc jockey in Pittsburgh and seeing The Producers. This was in 1968. If I recal, it was a very empty theatre. I was laughed from beginning to end. Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom and Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock were two of the funniest characters I had ever seen and the rest of the cast fell right into place. Not long after that we received a copy of the soundtrack at the radio station. Nobody wanted it, so I took it home. The record not only contained those wonderful tunes, “Springtime For Hitler” and “Prisoners of Love,” but the dialog too. Only the genius of Mel Brookscould have thought of that.

I would play the thing over and over. Soon I had committed to memory the lines everyone now seems to know, “If you got it baby, flaunt it, flaunt it”, “Look at me I’m wearing a cardboard belt” and my favorite, “Where did I go right?” Here I was in the late sixties and early seventies saying these things in normal conversation. Nobody knew where I was coming from. They just thought I was rather eccentric or just weird.

Along the way I picked up my own 16mm print of the film and would bore friends and ex-wives endlessly with it. By the eighties I was working with CNN in New York and I remember telling some of the other folks in our entertainment unit that Mel Brooks should make that film into a Broadway play. Wouldn’t it be funny, a Broadway flop that becomes an actual hit. Well, as they say great minds think alike.

Just let me believe that, okay?

So we now move to 2001 and The Producers debuts on Broadway. I was there along with every major player in the city. It was quite a night. The next day the lines went around the block to get tickets. In twenty years of covering showbiz in New York, I had never seen that kind of reaction. In June of that year the Tony awards were handed out at Radio City Music Hall. I covered the event for CNN and was watching as every single statue, it seemed, went to Mel and his happy, happy bunch. When he talked with me about it afterward, I told him of my long obsession with his great story. I’m sure he has run into hundreds like me but it just felt good to tell him to his face and it must have looked good on camera because CNN ran our conversation over and over again.

Several months later while interviewing Jon Voight for his role in Ali, Brooks and his still beautiful wife, Ann Bancroft, popped into the hotel where the press junket was set up to say hello to Voight. He must be an old friend. John says to Mel, “You must feel like you won the lottery.” Brooks answers, “I am the lottery.”

Now The Producers has come full circle. A flop about a flop that becomes a hit and I’m just hoping this time moviegoers get it and Mel, “When you got it baby flaunt it.”

Moving on..

Here it is January the slow time for the movie business. This is supposed to be the month where the studios unload all the pictures they don’t have a lot of faith in. My Baby’s Daddy, Chasing Liberty and Along Came Polly are just a few that will be coming to a theatre near you in a week or two.

I have a bet with a Kalamazoo, Michigan D.J. that all of the good gags in Polly are in the trailer. Rather, I should say, the gags – they don’t seem that good. Especially Ben Stiller’s stuck-in-the-bathroom-with-out-toilet-paper-and-commode-runs-over routine. Wasn’t that stuff saved for the actual movie?

Chasing Liberty is yet another story of the President’s daughter that tries everything she can to avoid being tailed by the Secret Service. Hey, that has never been done before. Well, there was “The Presidents Daughter” on Disney a couple of years ago. Then there was the classic Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the fifties. Oh! That doesn’t count she was a princess. Maybe this one is different.

As for My Baby’s Daddy I don’t even want to go there.

Sometimes the studios luck out and one of these catches on in this dry spell. I’ll just go see The Cooler again.

Ah, remember the good old days when the audience really appreciated a film? When I went to a screening of Seabiscuit during every race scene the woman of an elderly couple next to me would get on the edge of her seat and cheer. She, I think, believed she was really at the track. “Lady”, I wanted to say, “He’s gonna win.”

Let’s see what he does Oscar time. More about that later.

Check out if you get the chance.

January 13, 2004

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon