If you are not familiar with Glenn Erickson's excellent site, I highly recommend that you check it out. It's invaluable. That said, one of Glenn's favorite movies is "How to Succeed." And I am willing to bet the rent money that the film is also Glenn's favorite movie musical of all time, given that he's written about it three times (to the best of my knowledge) - here and here and here. And I relate. My personal movie-musical obsession is Mervyn LeRoy's ”Gypsy.” We all have one, right?
A good part of Glenn's focus on "How to Succeed" has been the missing "Coffee Break" number, which was a showstopper on stage and was filmed for the movie but then hastily deleted, seemingly at the very last minute.
The song is included on the soundtrack album and stills from it abound - and have been used on the dust jackets of the film's various home entertainment incarnations. Lots of stills. Just no footage. United Artists which released the film - and was not known for valuing the elements of its products - apparently junked the footage. Although I'm certain that some film freak out there, a former U.A. employee maybe, has it. Just guessing.
Glenn's two most recent posts on "How to Succeed" and the missing number (published back in March) caught the eye of a correspondent/colleague, identified only as B., who shed light not only on "Coffee Break" but also on the many other changes made for the stage-to-film transition. "Coffee Break" is only the tip of the iceberg. I highly doubt that Frank Loesser was very happy with this adaptation of his baby.
And adaptation is the operative word here.
When a book or stage production is optioned for the movies, it's a given that it will be adapted for the new medium. Those moviegoers who are fans of a book or a play expect an exacting adaptation - an exact replica of what they read or saw - and nothing less. I'm definitely a member of this group, particularly in the area of filmed Broadway musicals.
When Warner Bros made movies of celebrated stage musicals in the 1950s and '60s - "The Pajama Game," "Damn Yankees," "The Music Man," "Gypsy," "My Fair Lady," "Camelot" and "Finian's Rainbow" - it was as if Jack Warner himself hauled the cameras to New York's theater district. These films preserved the shows that inspired them, almost slavishly so.
Few-to-no alterations - my idea of a good adaptation.
But filmmakers, understandably, prefer the challenge of reworking something for the screen - to the point that it's sometimes barely recognizable. I'm thinking of the films of "Bye Bye Birdie," "Cabaret," "Living It Up" (based on "Hazel Flagg" - even the title didn't survive!) and "On the Town," "Pal Joey" and "Can-Can" (curiously all Sinatra titles).I suppose that tracing over a Broadway original is a rather lazy form of moviemaking. It takes more thought and planning to do a thorough adaptation. Superficially, Swift's "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" seems to be a replica of its stage source, but Swift, who also wrote the screenplay for his film, was shrewd and obviously put a lot of thought into the adaptation which changed the material ever so slightly.
Here's a stage-to-film history, most of it fact-based but some of it speculative: "How to Succeed" opened in New York at the 46th Street Theater on October 14, 1961, following a tryout run in Philadelphia (where I saw it as a kid). In New York, it ran for 1,417 performances.
And buttoned-down shirts, natch.
And now there was Robert Morse as J. Pierpont Finch in a stage musical about businessmen.
The show was a trendy hit and went on to win awards galore, including the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
But the idea was less trendy by the time the movie version was released in 1967.
The buttoned-down humor era had passed and, frankly, it was difficult to believe that the show actually won a Pulitzer. I've no idea of exactly when United Artists and The Mirisch Corporation (the producers of "The Apartment") snagged the film rights for "How to Succeed" - how soon the show was purchased after it opened or how long it lingered at U.A. before being filmed. I do know that times had changed.
And Swift, in turn, had to make some changes. On Glenn's site, B. solves the mystery when he writes (1) that the powers wanted to keep "a relatively modestly produced film to a reasonable running time" and (2) that "a shared spotlight had been trimmed to favor Finch alone."
A casualty of the adaptation is Frank Loesser's score. On stage, "How to Succeed" had nine songs and two reprises in Act One and four songs and three reprises in Act Two - 18 numbers in all sung by the entire cast.
In comparison, the film version has eight songs and three reprises - 11 numbers in all. Finch - Robert Morse - sings in all but two of those numbers, the exceptions being the "A Secretary Is Not a Toy" ensemble and one version of "I Believe in You." As for his co-stars in the movie, Michele Lee has one solo and one duet, and Rudy Vallee has two duets.
There was a decision that, for the film version, Robert Morse and only Robert Morse would be showcased. This is not the first time that a Broadway musical was made into a film seemingly interested in only one character. Director George Sidney did it twice. On its long journey to the screen, "Pal Joey" became "An Evening with Frank Sinatra," and "Bye Bye Birdie" was turned into "Ann-Margret Does Sweet Apple, Ohio."
To match Morse's affable mugging in the lead performance, Swift elected to film the musical in the broad cartoon style of Frank Tashlin ("The Girl Can't Help It" and "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?"). Case in Point: Maureen Arthur's theatrical entrance in the film (as the outrageous Hedy LaRue) and the bug-eyed reaction of the businessmen is pure Tashlin - not exactly worthy of a Pulitzer but certainly the stuff of popular moviemaking.
Among the numbers deleted were all the songs originally performed by Michele Lee's Rosemary character - "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,""Paris Original" and "Cinderella Darling," all wonderful songs that brought dimension to the character, but that apparently were considered unnecessary, given the new, determined focus of the film. There's no indication that any of them was filmed. But "Coffee Break" was and the exact reason it was cut from the film has never been explained.
But IMDb may be on to something. As mentioned earlier, "Coffee Break" was a showstopper on stage, where it was choreographed by Bob Fosse. Dale Moreda recreated Fosse's signature moves for the film and my hunch is that what played well on stage looked arch on screen. Weird. Just not funny. A similar situation occurred when Vincente Minnelli made "Bells Are Ringing" and filmed - and then deleted - the "Is It a Crime?" number, also a show-stopper on stage. Great number. But only on stage. The outtake of it on the "Bells" DVD is - how should I put this? - unwatchable.
But back to "Coffee Break." I've another theory why it was deleted. Originally, there were only two ensemble numbers in the "How to Succeed" film - "Coffee Break" and "A Secretary Is Not a Toy" - both performed without the Finch character. And they're rather similar (again, the trademark Fosse moves). Too much alike. One had to go. And while "Coffee Break" is fun (at least on stage), "A Secretary Is Not a Toy" is the better number, hands-down. Too good to cut. Decision made.
Does the straight, non-singing version of "How to Succeed" still exist? And if it does, wouldn't it be a nifty feature to include on a BlueRay/DVD?
Also missing is the "mirror" cameo appearance by Cary Grant at the end of Morse's rendition of "I Believe in You," something that was drumbeated in the "How to Succeed" pressbook, but that was never part of the finished film. When David Swift's film was in production, rumors were rampant that Grant would be making an appearance in the film. Nothing was elaborated on; it seemed a tease at the time.
When the film finally materialized, Grant was decidedly not on screen - and the scribes that had written about the event apparently forgot all about it. But United Artists didn't. In what amounts to a massive Hollywood screw-up, whoever put together the pressbook for the film (the pressbook being an important marketing tool in those days) included a reference to Grant, inviting newspapers to use the information. You can read the clip for yourself (at right) - and learn Grant's rationale for agreeing to do a turn in the movie. It appeared on Page Eight of the pressbook.
"A secretary is not a pet
~Dust jacket art for the Shepherd Mead book on which the musical is based
~Dust jacket art for the RCA/Original Cast recording of the stage show
~Robert Morse and Bonnie Scott in the original Broadway production of "How to Succeed..."
~photography: Friedman-Abeles 1961©