Saturday, December 15, 2018

dick & shelley & dick & kay

Connections, connections.

While most movie critics have a penchant for list-making, I always preferred locating what I call Hollywood connections. Case in point: Bud Yorkin's "Divorce, American Style," starring Debbie Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke, now more than 50 years old but as astutely observant and contemporary as ever. If anything, this scathing comedy of uncompromising matrimonial realities has improved with age.

A connection: Take note of the funny sequence which Reynolds and Van Dyke share with their respective divorce lawyers, played by Shelley Berman and Dick Gautier - both of whom had a history with Van Dyke.
Berman and Van Dyke had appeared on Broadway with Nancy Walker and Bert Lahr in the 1959 musical revue, "The Boys Against the Girls" and, a year later, Gautier played the title role in the original stage version of Van Dyke's musical hit, "Bye Bye Birdie," directed by Gower Champion.

For some bizarre reason, Columbia Pictures and director George Sidney didn't recruit the witty Gautier to recreate his stage role for their 1963 film of "Birdie"(giving it instead to a gyrating blank named Jesse Pearson).

Another connection… Gautier enjoyed something of a reunion with his “Birdie” co-star, Kay Medford, in Joshua Logan’s 1964 “Mister Roberts” sequel, "Ensign Pulver," starring Robert Walker, Jr. in the title (i.e. Jack Lemmon) role. Medford, who played Mae. Peterson (Van Dyke's mother) in the Broadway musical, was also passed over by Sidney for his film version of the musical. (Maureen Stapelton was cast in the role if Mrs. Petersen on screen.)

Josh Logan's little movie may be negligble, but I will forever be appreciative of his nimble casting of "Pulver" and particularly for correcting Sidney's slight and coming through for both Kay Medford and Dick Gautier.
“Pulver,” by the way, has a most impressive cast.  Medford plays a nurse who flirts with Walter Matthau (who inherited the William Powell role of Doc) and Gautier is a Seabee. Jack Nicholson,  James Coco, Tommy Sands, Jerry Orbach, James Farentino, Larry Hagman, George Lindsey, Gerald O'Loughlin and Peter Marshall play other assorted sailors.

Millie Perkins is Medford’s fellow nurse, and Diana Sands and Al Freeman, Jr. are hilarious as two rather worldly south-seas natives.

Burl Ives inherited the James Cagney role of The Captain of the ship that Pulver, Doc and the seabees call The Bucket.

Note in Passing:  More connections... Champion, who was slated to make his movie directorial debut with the film of "Bye Bye Birdie," actually accomplished that with the 1963 comedy "My Six Loves," starring ... Debbie Reynolds. And Reynolds and Van Dyke's sons in "Divorce, American Style" are played by Tim Matheson and Gary Goetzman.  Matheson still acts, while Goetzman works as a producer in tandem with Tom Hanks, actively involved in Hanks' Playtone production company.

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(from top)

~Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds in "Divorce, American Style"
~Van Dyke and Dick Gautier in a scene from the same film
~photography: Columbia Pictures 1967©

~Gautier with Paul Lynde and Michael J. Pollard  on stage in "Bye Bye Birdie"
~photography: Friedman-Abeles 1960©

~Kay Medford in the stage version of "Bye Bye Birdie"
~photography: Friedman-Abeles 1960©

~Al Freeman, Jr. (from left), Millie Perkins, Medford and Diana Sands (with Burl Ives on stretcher in foreground)
photography: Warner Bros. 1964©


Larry said...

I love the connections you make in these posts. Some great trivia. Now about "Divorce - American Style," yes, it is quite observant and still contemporary. Perhaps - dare I say it? - more pertinent today that any of Apatow's relationship comedies.

u.k. said...

I was a student nurse in Philadelphia in 1959. Someone donated various Broadway bound show tickets to our Hospital, and I remember seeing-and developing a Major
Crush on-Dick Van Dyke in “The Boys Against the Girls”.
When he starred in his own show on TV a few years later, I was hooked..........still am !!!

Kiki said...

Dear Passionate Moviegoer.
I am always intrigued by your "connect the stars" column. I think the operative word is "stars." Fifty years ago, the talent pool was far more contained. I actually knew all the actors you were referring to not only because of my advanced age but because, back then, films being made by studios who "owned" the stars were character driven rather than the CGI driven films being made today. Ok, ok, "Three Billboards" stands out (for me) as the best ensemble casting in yonks -- but if you look at the films at the Cineplex this Xmas -- the most "character" driven is the silly one with Mark Wahlberg and his film wife who adopt three diverse children. Then there's the return of Mary Poppins. But from the reviews, she should have stayed in the rest home. Aquaman is what people are flocking to -- and I don't think he's a "real" man. - Kiki

joe baltake said...

Well-put, Kiki!