Thursday, March 8, 2018

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

In 1962, Director Stanley Kramer set out to make the world's first epic comedy.  Most in Hollywood thought he was nuts, as he was known for his dramatic works.  Kramer's films offered social commentary, including Judgement at Nuremburg, for which he won the Academy Award, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.  But he had a yearning to conquer comedy as well, and many will claim he succeeded.

The idea behind the film was to take everyone who had ever been famous in comedy until that time and cram them all into one laugh-packed film, budget be damned.  Indeed, the principal cast has 12 of Hollywood's biggest names, with an additional 6 in supporting roles, and another 52 (that's not a typo) making cameo appearances.

The film begins with a dying Jimmy Durante, who literally kicks the bucket, informing five strangers of a fortune in buried loot.  While the group initially plans to share the money equally, it eventually devolves into a hilarious case of every man for himself.  See the trailer here.

With so many people involved in this production, it's hard not to have a grave or two.  I have 15.  Sadly, none of them are buried under the Big W.  Like the film, I've broken them down into principal cast, supporting roles, and cameos.

Principal Cast

Spencer Tracy heads the all-star cast, playing the beleaguered, hen-pecked Captain T.G. Culpepper.  It wasn't his first time working for Kramer, and it wouldn't be his last.  But it was his first comedy.  Like Kramer, he sought a departure from his dramatic personae, and Culpepper seemed to be the perfect fit.

Tracy died of a heart attack on June 10, 1967, just four years after the film's release.
Location: Forest Lawn Glendale
Plot: Court of Freedom, Garden of Everlasting Peace, Map #G30, Distinguished Memorial - Private Garden 8
GPS: 34.12254, -118.23504
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Milton Berle played businessman J. Russell Finch, taking a less-than-relaxing trip with wife Dorothy Provine and her domineering mother Ethel Merman.  Finch is one of the more stable, laid-back characters on the hunt for the money, often serving as the straight man to the other players, like in this scene with Terry-Thomas.

Berle died of colon cancer on March 27, 2002.

Hillside Memorial Park
Plot: Acacia Garden, MM 354-B
GPS: 33.97864, -118.38895
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Mickey Rooney played Ding Bell, an entertainer of sorts, en route to Vegas as the story begins.  Bell and his business partner Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett) have a tendency to risk life and limb much more so than their competitors in this pursuit, as shown in this scene here.

Rooney was the last major star of the film to pass, on April 6, 2014.  He was survived by 11 children and 8 wives.
Location: Hollywood Forever
Plot: Cathedral Lake View, Elevation 15, Couch B-1501
GPS: 34.08855, -118.31652
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Phil Silvers played the conniving Otto Meyer, a fact I had to learn from IMDb.  His character's name is never given on screen.  Hands down, the most ruthless character in this cast, going so far as to strand a hapless Jonathan Winters in the middle of the desert, leading to a hilarious comeuppance later in the film.

Silvers died on November 1, 1985.

Location: Mount Sinai Memorial Park
Plot: Garden of Tradition, Lot 1004
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Supporting Roles
Jimmy Durante played Smiler Grogan, the motorist who's dying words put 14 strangers on a hunt for $350,000, the result of a "tuna can" robbery some 15 years earlier.  See Grogan drive off a cliff here.

Durante died of pneumonia on January 29, 1980.

Holy Cross Cemetery
Plot: F, T96, Space #6
GPS: 33.99071, -118.3876
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Peter Falk played "Third Cab Driver," a character who doesn't appear until the third act.  Like Phil Silvers, I never had any clue as to what his character's name was.  Thank God for IMDb.

Falk was most famous for his portrayal of Columbo.  Oh and one more thing.  He died of Alzheimer's Disease on June 23, 2011.

Location: Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park
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Jim Backus played Tyler Fitzgerald, a drunken charter pilot hired by Benjy and Ding.  Fitzgerald is basically every other character Backus ever played, including his signature role of Thurston Howell III.  Watch what happens when he decides to mix a few drinks mid-flight.   

Backus died from Parkinson's Disease on July 3, 1989. 

Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park
Plot: Section D, #203
GPS: 34.05818, -118.44153
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Jack Benny has an uncredited (!) role as "Man in Car in Desert." His character is proof that no good deed goes unpunished.

His "Jack Benny Show" co-star Eddie Anderson also appears in the film, with a much meatier role as "Second Cab Driver."

Benny died of pancreatic cancer on December 26, 1974.

Hillside Memorial Park
Plot: Mausoleum, Hall of Graciousness
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Selma Diamond played Ginger Culpepper, a character we never actually see on screen.  But that's her voice nagging Spencer Tracy by phone through the first half of the picture.  Hear a sample of it here.

Diamond died of lung cancer on May 13, 1985.

Hillside Memorial Park
Plot: Courts of the Book, Jacob-I-4004
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Morey Amsterdam is another actor uncredited in the film, in the role of Uncle Mike.  Quite frankly, I ain't even sure where (if) he appears in the film.  Perhaps it ended up on the cutting room floor.  But he seems a natural fit for the production, having come up through Vaudeville, radio, and TV like so many of the other performers.

Amsterdam died of a heart attack on October 27, 1996.

Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills
Plot: Courts of Remembrance, Map #E30 (Unit 4, Elevation 30), Single Wall Crypt #3632
GPS: 34.15007, -118.31985
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The film also features two actors who would later appear in the hit sit-com "Three's Company," Don Knotts and Norman Fell.  Their respective graves have already been documented in this blog, along with the graves of these fine gentlemen:

They only appear on screen for about five seconds.  Just goes to show the lengths Kramer went to to truly make this film an epic.

And finally, a nod to all the late performers in the film, not chronicled in this blog, including Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Dick Shawn, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Stan Freberg, Sterling Holloway, Buster Keaton, Marvin Kaplan, Madlyn Rhue, Arnold Stang and Stanley Kramer.

1 comment:

  1. I saw Mickey Rooney in the The Wizard of Oz when it played at the National Theater in D.C. My mom received a thank you card from him, signed, for a get well card she sent when he was in the hospital. It was during a down time in career and he appreciated that she thought of him. Great post. — Michelle B.