Monday, September 04, 2017

how to appreciate "how to succeed"

Now is the time to reacquaint ourselves with "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and its curious journey to the screen. David Swift's colorful 1967 film adaptation of the 1961 Frank Loesser stage musical airs tomorrow afternoon on Turner Classic Movies at 3:45 (est) as part of its clever "How To" series of films ("How to Steal a Million," How to Marry a Millionaire," you get the drift). But first a word about DVD Savant.

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.

 Although based on a playful 1952 book (of the same title) by Shepherd Mead, the show was also clearly part of the new-style "buttoned-down" humor of the 1960s. There was Bob Newhart doing stand-up in businessman attire, as were Mike Nichols, Shelley Berman and Mort Sahl, Jack Lemmon on movie screens in "The Apartment," and Dick Van Dyke on his eponymous TV series.  All wearing suits and ties.

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.
Among the reasons bandied about... It was deleted because Radio City Music Hall, the site of the film's New York opening, wanted a shorter film. This doesn't make sense, given that the release version of "How to Succeed" runs two hours and the Music Hall routinely played films that ran two-and-a-half hours. IMDb, not the most reliable source for information, has advanced the rumor that "the footage was ... deemed unusable."

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.

Speaking of 'Secretary," there is another cut in the film, one never discussed. The middle of "A Secretary Is Not a Toy" (for my money, the best number in the play/film) is missing.  The song is truncated.  It's apparent that the number was filmed in its entirety,  but there's an awkward (bad) cut to the dancing in front of elevators, a cut that deletes the middle portion of Loesser's lyric for the song.*
Another curious fact about "How to Succeed" is that when it was in production, it was widely reported that Swift was also filming "dramatic bridges" to replace the movie's musical numbers for its European engagements. This may account for some strange transitions in the film, particularly its opening - the jump cut from Finch, washing the windows of the World Wide Wickets building, to his suddenly singing the film's first number, "How To," which almost feels like an afterthought. 

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.

One can assume that Grant did indeed film his non-speaking cameo. But it was never explained why it isn't in the complete film. As for the sequence in question - the "I Believe in You" number - it was supposed to end with star Robert Morse looking at himself in a mirror when his image turns into Cary Grant's.  In the final release version of the film, the sequence ends with Morse seeing his own image in the mirror, not Grant's

One can only assume what happened to the Grant footage and the "straight" version of "How to Succeed." Where are they now?

* Re the missing portion of "A Secretary Is Not a Toy," there's an abrupt cut to dancing in front of an elevator after the chorus sings about a secretary "not being used for play therapy." This was originally followed by:

"She's a highly specialized key component
Of operational unity,
A fine and sensitive mechanism
To serve the office community.
With a mother at home she supports;
And you'll find nothing like her at FAO Schwarz.

"A secretary is not a pet
Nor an e-rector set.
It happened to Charlie McCoy, boy:
They fired him like a shot
The day the fellow forgot
A secretary is not a toy." 

Notes in Passing:  Billy Wilder had a track record with the Mirisch Brothers, the producers of "How to Succeed," and the Mirisches wanted Wilder to direct the musical with Jack Lemmon as his star (just as Paramount originally wanted Wilder to direct Lemmon in "The Odd Couple"). Wilder declined because, as he explained when he turned 1963's "Irma La Douce" into a songless comedy, "I don't know how to make musicals."  The project, of course, went to David Swift, who had also directed Lemmon - in the back-to-back comedies, "Under the Yum-Yum Tree" and "Good Neighbor Sam."  But, Swift opted instead for Morse, the play's original star and, for many, the owner of the leading role.

And as Glenn Erickson mentions on his site, that's the director, David Swift, who plays the elevator operator who chides Michelle Lee late in the film.  Nice cameo.

Belated note: Vanessa posted a response asking if the late Robert Osborne, of TCM, is an extra in the film.  See her question and my reply among the comments.
* * * * *

~A moment from the "Secretary Is Not a Toy" number in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
~photography: United Artists 1967©

~Dust jacket  art for the Shepherd Mead book on which the musical is based

~Jack Lemmon in "The Apartment"
~photography: United Artists 1960©

~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©

~A moment from the deleted "Coffee Break" number in "How to Succeed..."
~photography: United Artists 1967©

~Morse singing "I Believe in You" (sans Cary Grant) in "How to Succeed..."
~photography: United Artists 1967©

~A clip from the United Artists pressbook for "How to Succeed."
~United Artists 1967©


Jeff said...

God piece, Joe, but I have to question something. Hugh Lambert is credited with the choreography of the Broadway edition of "How to Succeed." What gives?

joe baltake said...

Jeff- True, Lambert was hired to do the choreography and received credit for it. But the legend goes that Lambert wasn't working out and that Fosse was brought in to stage most of the dances. Apparently, Lambert only choreographed the "Yo Ho Ho" pirate routine. Lambert was billed as choreographer; Fosse was billed as "musical staging by..." Reportedly, Fosse didn't want to edge out a newcomer and wanted Lambert to receive the choreographer credit. -J

Phil said...

I like this film, but I have to admit that Morse seems to be playing to the last row in the balcony. A bad stage habit that he took to the screen. Still, I'm glad the film preserved his performance.

joe baltake said...

Phil- On one of the Tony telecasts, Neil Patrick Harris made a quip about stage actors not needing close-ups. i think Morse's performance in "How to Succeed" unintentionally backs up that point. -J

Alex said...

You're right about the Tashlin influence. Morse's mugging and Swift's mise-en-scene make the proceedings seem like some lost Jerry Lewis film. So, for me, the film works as an entertaining time capsule, with sexual politics of the time mixed with up-to-date power politics. Also, it's rather refreshingly scaled down in comparison to the big, often bloated, Hollywood musicals that were more common to the era. It also helps that the songs are strong, especially the lyrics.

Kent said...

I love how the UA pressbook misspells Dyan Cannon's name.

Mike Schlesinger said...

John Kirk, who was head of UA's asset management for many years, told me that he'd searched diligently for "Coffee Break" but could not find it.

The Radio City version is the one that always made the most sense to me, as "Coffee" is the easiest deletion, given it doesn't advance the plot. Moreover, the two-hour rule may have not been a thing earlier, but it definitely was by that time; four years later, Disney was forced to hack nearly half-an-hour out of "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" before the Hall would accept it. (Fortunately, they saved the trims and many years later it was restored to its original 144" length.)

Has anyone bothered to ask Walter Mirisch what the reason was?

joe baltake said...

Mike- Yes, the “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” incident. But in that case, Disney released the cut version nation-wide, not just at the Music Hall. Years earlier, Disney’s “The Happiest Millionaire” played the major cities in its 164-minute roadshow version (with intermission break). That’s the version I reviewed in Philly. A few weeks later, the film opened at Radio City as its Christmas attraction. Well, the film had been cut down to 141 minutes, Lesley Ann Warren’s first solo number (“Valentine Candy”) was excised, other songs were also cut or reduced and the intermission, of course, was eliminated, as were the overture and exit music. Twenty-three minutes were deleted for the film's New York run, while it played intact elsewhere. Good film, but now forgotten. Again, I’m surprised Turner never airs it. Also surprised that Disney hasn’t thought of turning it into a Broadway show. It has a complete score. But, then, it wasn’t a hit, right? -J

j.p. said...

One of the few musicals I've ever liked, Joe.

Kiki said...

I saw it in Philly, too. ( I wonder if we were in the same audience.) But I had never seen (or heard of) the movie. I liked musicals in theatres well enough but was rarely interested in the movie versions. AND "How to Succeed" was rarely (if ever) on the TV channels like "MusicManMusicManMusicMan."

I remember Robert Morse (I think he was also in "Take Me Along") but didn't he sort of "drop out" for a while? Then I saw him in "Tru" and he was so terrific, I went and saw it again. He was SO Capote, it was breathtaking. That's why I had to see it twice.

Vanessa said...

Joe! I could swear that I spotted a young Robert Osborne in one scene in "How to Succeed" when I watched it on Turner yesterday. I've seen picture of him when he was a young actor and the guy I saw looked just like him. Any thoughts?

joe baltake said...

Vanessa: I know the sequence and I also think it’s Osborne. He plays on of the young executive drones who points Michelle Lee in the direction of Robert Morse’s office. But Osborne’s list of credits on IMDb do not list “How to Succeed” as one of his film appearance, not even as an “uncredited” role, as I’m sure this one would be. Of course, IMDb isn’t exactly the last word when it comes to filmographies. It depends on its readers to revise and update it. But I would be the rent money that the young extra in that scene is Osborne. -J

Tim K. said...

I agree that it was a different show when it was filmed six years after it had played Broadway. Everything had changed in this country. When I saw the film version, it seemed terribly dated but I still enjoyed it.

Bill from Philly said...

My guess is that the movie couldn't be made until the show closed on B'way.

joe baltake said...

Bill- I believe the show ran close to four years, closing in 1964. But, undoubtedly, there were touring companies of the show that may have precluded it from being filmed in a timely manner.

Brian Lucas said...

It doesn't make sense that "I Believe in You" would end with Morse seeing an image of Cary Grant in the mirror. The way it's filmed, it's a fairly serious number, rather ominous, in fact. I can't imagine it ending with a punchline.

joe baltake said...

Good point, Brian. While "I Believe In You" is one of those Broadway self-affirming songs, Swift definitely staged it in a somber way. It ends with the camera pulling away from Finch as he seems to be doubting himself.

Chris S. said...

This is one of the most enjoyable musical comedies of all time. And it's held up better than most musicals of that era. Sure, it's only a few steps removed from it's stage origins, and Robert Morse's performance is about the same as on he did on the Broadway stage, but I found that approach refreshing, without being an actual "filmed" stage presentation, which never come across well on film. Robert Morse's performance is electric, and what really set's this film (and the original Broadway production) head and shoulders above all revivals. That role is his, forever, and no one can even come close. Yes, "How to Succeed" IS a great picture, which would have been even better had they kept the "Coffee Break" number in it (and not gutted Michelle Lee's part of a couple numbers her character Rosemary had in the stage version). Every now and then I check online to see if there's been any good news as far as locating the missing "Coffee Break" scene, but so far no luck.

B. said...

Excellent post about the movie musical I never get tired of reading about. The detail about the Cary Grant "cameo" is new to me, and priceless. [Are there any other errant details about the movie in that UA pressbook?] Your very specific description of the evident cuts in "A Secretary is not a Toy," is quite informative. And I never had any idea that David Swift planned (and possibly assembled) a musical-number-free version of the movie for certain European markets. Fascinating. Well done, Mr. Baltake.

I largely agree with your take on what must be acknowledged as Jack Warner's great contribution to our culture, producing remarkably faithful film adaptations of THE PAJAMA GAME, DAMN YANKEES, THE MUSIC MAN and other great Broadway musicals. Yes, less adaptation is almost always better adaptation. UA's HOW TO SUCCEED, for the reasons you outline above, does fall in the more adaptation category, but it remains pleasing. To me, anyhow. In other words, this is almost my GYPSY, I suppose.

I do wish I could see that damn "Coffee Break" number, though. Your analogy to the "Is it a Crime" number (rightly) cut from the BELLS ARE RINGING movie is somewhat comforting, but I'd still like to see Anthony "Scooter" Teague and the film's ensemble take a swing at it.

[Apropos of Mr. Teague, do you recall the passage regarding the performer in Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution? According to Harris' research, when François Truffaut was still considering directing Newman & Benton's script for BONNIE AND CLYDE, he made some preliminary notes on casting... and cited "Scooter" Teague as a possible candidate to play Clyde Barrow. Reading this, I nearly dropped the book. Wow, I thought. François Truffaut knew who Anthony Teague was! And, more, he believed the guy who brought Bud Frump so indelibly to life onscreen was good casting for Clyde! How wonderful! I love BONNIE AND CLYDE, but I now dream of an alternate universe version of the picture in which Truffaut directs Teague and, say, Tuesday Weld...]

I would add that while writer-producer-director Swift does indeed direct much of the movie in a broad "cartoon" style, it isn't necessarily because of the influence of the great Frank Tashlin. I think David Swift came by his idea of cartoon styling via his own animation experience; he was an assistant to Ward Kimball at Disney before the war, and later worked at MGM, where he wrote gags for Tex Avery's unit. Swift personally observed -- and tried to abet -- these geniuses making magic happen with imaginative use of color, strong character design, outrageous poses, split-second timing; all this clearly informs his feature film work. [I believe only someone with a solid background in short cartoons could have made that running gag of unsuccessful attempts to shoot a Hertz Rent-a-Car commercial in GOOD NEIGHBOR, SAM come off so well.] Swift's hiring Virgil Partch (an outstanding cartoonist) and Mary Blair (a great Disney concept artist and colorist) to contribute visual gags and design ideas for HOW TO SUCCEED was an inspired idea; their work adds to the film's success.

Thanks again for your fine writing on the movie.

joe baltake said...

Wow, B.! Awesome response. Thanks so much for the fascinating and invaluable information, particularly about the great David Swift (always underrated, in my opinion) - and also for the kind, encouraging words. -J

joe baltake said...

Oh, and yes, there is another bit of misinformation in the UA pressbook: It lists "Coffee Break" as one of the songs in the film. Of course, the pressbook was prepared before the film was ready for release and before U.A. made the decisions to delete the number and the Cary Grant bit as well. I haven't check it thoroughly, but there may be more. -J

Mike Schlesinger said...

Joe, as a matter of fact, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS was the tenth-highest grossing film released in 1971, so it was certainly not a flop. I imagine Disney's interest in turning it into a Broadway musical is tempered by their desire to create shows based on newer films that are still familiar to their youthful fans and their tolerant parents.

joe baltake said...

Mike- I was referring to “Happiest Millionaire” being the stuff of a B’way transfer, but I believe that film under-performed, unlike “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” -J

B. said...

Mike is right in that BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS performed well at the box office in '71-'72, but I would point out that the film was fairly costly for Disney to produce and market. It's a pretty good movie, and though the Shermans' score is not as impressive as their songs for POPPINS, it has a couple of nice tunes. I believe the studio was disappointed with its reception. Disney had put a lot into the picture, the most elaborate live-action film it had attempted since Walt's passing, and the studio hoped for something that would perform in some way commensurate to MARY POPPINS, and become a beloved classic. This didn't happen. I think that the cuts made in order to obtain the Radio City booking hurt the picture. [Some of the trims were lost, including one number; Disney has mostly reconstructed the film for home video.] The studio cut BEDKNOBS further (to 96 minutes) for an 1979 reissue; this was a truncated mess of the original, a little akin to THOSE WERE THE HAPPY TIMES, Fox's 1969 trimmed and re-worked re-marketing of STAR! Fortunately this version of the movie (like HAPPY TIMES) now sits in the vaults.

Someone at Disney must have at least toyed with the idea of a legit production of 1967's THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE; after all, the film is crammed with at least thirteen songs by the Shermans, and seems tailored to the stage. [The movie was in part based on Kyle Crichton's play of Cordelia Biddle's memoir, and the film retains hints of theatricality.] This could be done -- but I don't know whether the score and story warrant a lavish Broadway production. [Plus, the '67 film was by no means a success.]

However, the notion of a theatrical BEDKNOBS is actually a pretty good one. Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi's screen adaptation of the Mary Norton books was sturdy, with good roles for the principals, and this might be transformed into something magical and charming by an imaginative dramatist, designer and director. It's actually more suitable for stage adaptation than a number of other films that have received this treatment.

joe baltake said...

Thanks, B. Thought this previous essay, titled "reversal of fortune - from screen to stage?" - might interest you:


DanM said...

Great article! I learned a lot about one of my favorite films. I don't know if I'm off base but when the "Secretary" number travels into the secretarial pool and we are introduced to the three men standing with their backs to the camera, I have always been reminded of the Georg Olden designed logo for "To Tell The Truth". Maybe it was the zeitgeist of the era, but that connection has stayed with me all these years.

joe baltake said...

Dan! You're right. That Olden design logo does seem to have been the inspiration for one of Fosse's dance postures in the film. Very clever idea. And very observant of you to pick up on it. I've written a new essay, coupling the two graphics to illustrate the similarity. Check out "a fosse/olden postscript." Thanks for the heads up! -J