La Merm with screen daughter, Dorothy Provine, in Stanley Kramer's elephantine, oddly unfunny comedy epic, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"I've written repeatedly here about my affection for Mervyn LeRoy's 1962 filmization of "Gypsy," my all-time favorite movie musical.
The film - actually, its star, Rosalind Russell specifically - has been the subject of a five-decade hissy fit on the part of Broadway types who resent that Ethel Merman, the star of the piece on stage, wasn't signed by Warner Bros. to repeat the role that she created to some acclaim.
The disturbing columnist Dorothy Kilgallen in particular got her nose out of joint when her good friend Merman was passed by as Mama Rose.
But Jack Warner wasn't stupid: Like everyone else, he had seen "Call Me Madam" and "There's No Business Like Show Business" and knew that Merman was no screen personality. Instead, he went for a world-class actress who would bring psychological depth to the character.
Anyway, while it was in production, Kilgallen had "Gypsy" under a microscope for her on-going demonization. LeRoy's nifty decision to hire Jack Benny for an inspired cameo elicited the following Kilgallen criticism: "Jack Benny has been hired to play a role in the film of 'Gypsy.' It must be in trouble." Jeez, you can't buy bad publicity like that.
A year later, Merman got a consolation prize when she was hired by Stanley Kramer to play the harridan, Mrs. Marcus - mother of Dorothy Provine and mother-in-law of Milton Berle - in Kramer's elephantine comedy, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." The film, despite its plethora of noted comedy stars, is singularly unfunny - except for Merman.
She's a hoot in the film.
Anyway, Jack Benny, perhaps not coincidentally, popped up for a cameo scene opposite Merman - which leads to a very inside joke.
Merman and company are stranded, their car having broken down, when Benny drives by and asks if they're having trouble.
"No!," screams Merman as only she could, adding angrily "And we don't need any help from you!"
The scene isn't the least bit funny and seems pointless - until you think about Benny's unclean participation in Merman's beloved "Gypsy."
I don't know but that thowaway line, "And we don't need any help from you!," always takes on a deeper meaning for me.
"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" airs on Turner Classic Movies at 8 p.m. (est), 6 July.