Melvin and Howard (1980)

R | 95 mins | Comedy-drama | 26 September 1980

Director:

Jonathan Demme

Writer:

Bo Goldman

Producers:

Art Linson, Don Phillips

Cinematographer:

Tak Fujimoto

Editor:

Craig McKay

Production Designer:

Toby Carr Rafelson

Production Companies:

Universal Pictures , A Linson/ Phillips/ Demme Production
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HISTORY

The following epilogue appears at the end of the film: “Howard Hughes died in April, 1976. The ‘Mormon Will’ was thrown out of Clark County Superior Court in June, 1978. Lynda is a housewife and lives with her husband Bob in Garden Grove, California. Melvin and Bonnie live in Willard, Utah, where Melvin drives a delivery truck for Coors Beer. A will acceptable to the courts has yet to be found.”
       The following acknowledgments appear in end credits: “Special thanks to: Judge Keith Hayes, Calvin Aberle, Ron Bayless, Louis Bertini, Roger Dutson, Morgan Cavett, Jan Gregson, Charles House, Bessie Jackson, J. J. Johnson, Richard D. Keefe, Dan Keyes, Annemarie Korzeniowski, Geraldine Roberts.” End credits state: “This picture was filmed entirely on location in California, Nevada, and Utah, where the events actually occurred.”
       Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that as producer Don Phillips watched Melvin Dummar’s reaction in a television interview the day after being named in industrialist Howard Hughes’ alleged will, Phillips concluded that the circumstances were perfect to spin into a movie. After Phillips met with Dummar’s attorney, he teamed up with producer Art Linson, and the two approached Universal Pictures with the project. A 12 Jul 1976 Box news item announced that Universal Pictures bought film rights to The Melvin Dummar Story, about his alleged chance meeting in the Utah desert with the reclusive Hughes.
       An 18 Apr 1979 DV article reported that Universal president Ned Tanen had a relationship with screenwriter Bo Goldman, and tried to interest him in several projects at the time. Tanen insisted that Goldman meet with Phillips and Linson. They, in ... More Less

The following epilogue appears at the end of the film: “Howard Hughes died in April, 1976. The ‘Mormon Will’ was thrown out of Clark County Superior Court in June, 1978. Lynda is a housewife and lives with her husband Bob in Garden Grove, California. Melvin and Bonnie live in Willard, Utah, where Melvin drives a delivery truck for Coors Beer. A will acceptable to the courts has yet to be found.”
       The following acknowledgments appear in end credits: “Special thanks to: Judge Keith Hayes, Calvin Aberle, Ron Bayless, Louis Bertini, Roger Dutson, Morgan Cavett, Jan Gregson, Charles House, Bessie Jackson, J. J. Johnson, Richard D. Keefe, Dan Keyes, Annemarie Korzeniowski, Geraldine Roberts.” End credits state: “This picture was filmed entirely on location in California, Nevada, and Utah, where the events actually occurred.”
       Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that as producer Don Phillips watched Melvin Dummar’s reaction in a television interview the day after being named in industrialist Howard Hughes’ alleged will, Phillips concluded that the circumstances were perfect to spin into a movie. After Phillips met with Dummar’s attorney, he teamed up with producer Art Linson, and the two approached Universal Pictures with the project. A 12 Jul 1976 Box news item announced that Universal Pictures bought film rights to The Melvin Dummar Story, about his alleged chance meeting in the Utah desert with the reclusive Hughes.
       An 18 Apr 1979 DV article reported that Universal president Ned Tanen had a relationship with screenwriter Bo Goldman, and tried to interest him in several projects at the time. Tanen insisted that Goldman meet with Phillips and Linson. They, in turn, urged him to travel to Willard, UT, for a meeting with Dummar. Goldman was unexpectedly moved by Dummar’s circumstances, and his humble beginnings. For Goldman, the story was one of survival, and the disappointment or fruition of people’s dreams.
       For his research, Goldman revisited the route that Dummar claimed he traveled with Hughes. According to production notes, Goldman spent three weeks with Dummar, who showed him the area on the Tonopah Highway in NV where he first encountered Hughes all the way to Hughes’ destination at the Las Vegas Sands Hotel. In Orange County, CA, the men visited the fifteen homes that were part of Dummar’s peripatetic childhood, and Goldman was introduced to Lynda, Dummar’s ex-wife.
       The 18 Apr 1979 DV stated that during his research, Goldman also befriended a maid, who raised eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. Later, Goldman received feedback on his first draft to increase the role of “Melvin.” Around this time, the “Mormon will” which had named Melvin as one of Hughes’ heirs was ruled a fake. Despite Dummar’s fall from grace, Goldman believed ninety percent of Dummar’s story because the amount of detail he knew could not have been invented, and he instinctually felt that Dummar did not forge the will. In a 27 Oct 1980 DV article, director Jonathan Demme also commented that Dummar knew details that seemed authentic. When he gave the alleged Hughes a ride, the man had blood oozing from his ear. Later, Hughes’ autopsy report stated that, at the time of his death, he had an infection in his inner ear.
       A 16 Nov 1977 HR brief announced that Mike Nichols was hired to direct the picture. However, a 11 Dec 1978 LAT article reported that Nichols left the project due to other commitments, and the fact that actor Jack Nicholson, his choice for the role of “Melvin,” would not be realized. A 7 May 1979 HR brief stated that actress Diane Keaton was hired by director Jonathan Demme, but withdrew from the project.
       Articles in the 30 Aug 1978 Var, 26 Feb 1979 HR, and May 1979 Millimeter stated that principal photography began 26 Feb 1979 in Glendale, CA, and would continue to Salt Lake City, Willard and Ogden, UT, Las Vegas, and Reno, NV, and Orange County, CA, for additional filming. The 30 Aug 1978 Var reported that the film’s budget was between $3 and 4 million. In the 27 Oct 1980 DV, Demme stated that the movie cost approximately $7 million. According to a 10 May 1979 HR brief, the production schedule was ten weeks, and principal photography was completed that day.
       The 27 Oct 1980 DV reported that Demme aimed for the greatest degree of verisimilitude in his use of locations, props and courtroom dialogue. He used the actual courtroom, gas station, and a Polynesian restaurant in La Habra, CA, where events took place. The presiding judge in the court case was a background actor in the courtroom scene in which the actual “Mormon will” was used, and much dialogue in the scene was taken from court transcripts. Although Dummar did not say that Hughes sang in the car during their travels, Demme used two songs written by Dummar to embellish the story, and gave him a cameo role as a lunch counter waiter at a bus station.
       Two pieces of improvisation came about when Demme had to deviate from the truth. To recreate Bonnie Dummar’s appearance on the game show, Let’s Make A Deal (1963--present), the filmmaker approached the show’s master of ceremonies, Monty Hall. When it came time to shoot the sequence, Hall’s lawyers protested the use of the show’s name so a new game show titled Easy Street was invented and used instead. In another sequence in which Dummar holds a press conference, the questions were spontaneous, and Paul Le Mat’s answers were improvised, according to Demme.
       A 22 Dec 1980 LAT news item stated that the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures included the film as Number Five in its list of “top English language films.” A 7 Jan 1981 DV article announced that the film had been named the National Society of Film Critics’ best picture of the year. The society also awarded the film best supporting actress (Mary Steenburgen), and best screenplay.
       The film received two Academy Awards: Actress in a Supporting Role (Mary Steenburgen) and Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen). It received the following nomination: Actor in a Supporting Role (Jason Robards). The film also received a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Mary Steenburgen). Other Golden Globe nominations included: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture–Comedy or Musical (Paul Le Mat), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, and Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
12 Jul 1976.
---
California Business
Oct 1986
p. 12.
Daily Variety
18 Apr 1979.
---
Daily Variety
27 Oct 1980
p. 2, 8.
Daily Variety
7 Jan 1981
p. 1, 46.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Feb 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 1980
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
11 Dec 1978.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Oct 1980
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
22 Dec 1980.
---
Millimeter
May 1979.
---
New York Times
26 Sep 1980
p. 32.
New York Times
8 Mar 1981.
---
Variety
30 Aug 1978.
---
Variety
10 Sep 1980
p. 30.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Also Starring:
Go Go Dancers:
The Bait Brothers:
Easy Street Models:
[and]
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Linson/ Phillips/ Demme Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Key grip
Gaffer
Dolly grip
Best boy
Stills
2d grip
Grip
Loc projectionist
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Assoc film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Prop master
Painter
Leadman
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Cost supv
Costumer-men
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Sd re-rec
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles & opt eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod assoc
Scr supv
Post prod services by
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Addl casting by
Prod asst
Prod asst
Unit pub
Craft service
Prod's secy
Prod's secy
Research
STAND INS
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Melvin Dummar Story
Release Date:
26 September 1980
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 26 Sep 1980; Los Angeles opening: 24 Oct 1980
Production Date:
26 Feb--10 May 1979 in So. California, Utah, and Nevada
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 March 1981
Copyright Number:
PA96938
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
95
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25896
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the desert near Tonopah, Nevada, Howard Hughes rides his motorcycle and crashes. At night, Melvin Dummar, a magnesium plant worker, stops by the side of the highway to urinate. There, he sees Howard huddled and shivering on the ground. He helps the man into his pickup truck, and says he should see a doctor. Howard refuses medical attention, although blood trickles from his ear. Howard asks Melvin to take him to Las Vegas, Nevada. Melvin makes small talk, saying he applied to work the graveyard shift at McDonnell Douglas, Northrup Corporation, and Hughes Aircraft Company, but was rejected. Howard says he might have helped Melvin get a job, and reveals that he is Howard Hughes, but Melvin does not believe him. Melvin sings an original song he wrote titled Santa’s Souped Up Sleigh. He teaches Howard the words, and then wants Howard to sing a favorite song, but he refuses. After being prodded, Howard hums Bye Bye Blackbird, and then sings the words. When they arrive in Las Vegas, Howard asks to be dropped off in a hotel parking lot. Before he leaves, he asks Melvin for money. When Melvin gives him the spare change in his pocket, Howard eyes Melvin as if to commit his face to memory, then says goodbye. After Melvin leaves, Howard tosses the change on the ground. Melvin returns to his trailer home, and makes love to his wife, Lynda. Later, she ... +


In the desert near Tonopah, Nevada, Howard Hughes rides his motorcycle and crashes. At night, Melvin Dummar, a magnesium plant worker, stops by the side of the highway to urinate. There, he sees Howard huddled and shivering on the ground. He helps the man into his pickup truck, and says he should see a doctor. Howard refuses medical attention, although blood trickles from his ear. Howard asks Melvin to take him to Las Vegas, Nevada. Melvin makes small talk, saying he applied to work the graveyard shift at McDonnell Douglas, Northrup Corporation, and Hughes Aircraft Company, but was rejected. Howard says he might have helped Melvin get a job, and reveals that he is Howard Hughes, but Melvin does not believe him. Melvin sings an original song he wrote titled Santa’s Souped Up Sleigh. He teaches Howard the words, and then wants Howard to sing a favorite song, but he refuses. After being prodded, Howard hums Bye Bye Blackbird, and then sings the words. When they arrive in Las Vegas, Howard asks to be dropped off in a hotel parking lot. Before he leaves, he asks Melvin for money. When Melvin gives him the spare change in his pocket, Howard eyes Melvin as if to commit his face to memory, then says goodbye. After Melvin leaves, Howard tosses the change on the ground. Melvin returns to his trailer home, and makes love to his wife, Lynda. Later, she awakens and sees their motorcycle being repossessed. Lynda grabs their daughter, Darcy, and some personal items, and leaves Melvin. In a hotel room, she tells Darcy that she is no longer able to cohabitate with her husband. However, Lynda sends her daughter to live with Melvin. Later, Melvin and his co-worker, “Little Red,” take a ride to Reno, Nevada. There, Melvin finds Lynda working as a dancer in a topless club and orders her to come home. When he tries to remove her from the stage, the owner kicks him out of the club. Later, Melvin returns with divorce papers that grant him sole custody of Darcy. The couple fights, and again, the owner removes Melvin from the premises, complaining to Lynda about the disruption. Lynda quits, rips off her costume, and walks out of the club naked. Later, she calls Melvin from Anaheim, California. He guesses that she is pregnant, invites her to come back home, and promises to marry her again. The couple has a quickie wedding in Las Vegas, and relocate to Glendale, California, where Melvin gets a job as a milk deliveryman. Lynda gives birth to a baby boy. While the family watches the Easy Street game show on television, Lynda tells Melvin that their car has been repossessed. Melvin is not too worried, but Lynda becomes a contestant on Easy Street to win money and prizes for her family. On the show, she tap dances to the tune of I Can’t Get No Satisfaction and receives a check for $500. Wally “Mr. Love” Williams, the game show host, asks if she wants to trade her check for what is behind gate number one, two or three. She chooses gate number two, and, at first, wins a set of living room furniture. Then, the sound of rolling thunder signals additional prizes. Lynda also wins an upright piano, sheet music, piano lessons, and a check for $10 thousand. With the money, the couple purchases a new tract home. When Lynda insists on buying a more modest home, Melvin buys an expensive car and a motorboat. She demands he return them, but he refuses. She calls him a loser, and is furious that he has spent her prize money on frivolous things. Lynda says she is never coming back, takes her children, and leaves Melvin for a second time. At the company Christmas party, Melvin sings a parody of Six Days On The Road, and Bonnie, a company staff member, is charmed by his performance. Afterward, his romance with Bonnie blooms, and she suggests they start a new life in Utah, running a gas station her cousin formerly owned. One day, their petroleum supplier refuses to make a gasoline delivery unless he gets paid. Melvin tells Bonnie they will write a check even if funds do not cover it, and he says there is a possibility he will pump enough gas over the weekend to pay the supplier. Meanwhile, television news reports that eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes has died. Melvin reminds Bonnie that he gave Howard a ride out in the desert many years ago. Later, a stranger leaves an envelope containing Howard Hughes’ will at Melvin’s gas station. After examining the document, Melvin travels to Salt Lake City, Utah, and leaves the document at the offices of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. One day, Bonnie receives a telephone call informing her that Melvin is one of sixteen beneficiaries named in an alleged Howard Hughes will. Television reporters show up at the gas station, and interview Bonnie and her children while Melvin hides. Later, Melvin agrees to hold a press conference, and the media interviews anybody who knows Melvin. In a courtroom at the Las Vegas Clark County Courthouse, Melvin tells lawyers he gave the will to the church because he was afraid. The attorneys strongly suggest that Melvin’s story about Howard is a lie, and Judge Keith Hayes says he will throw Melvin in prison if he tries to commit fraud. Under oath, Melvin claims he is telling the truth. After the hearing, Melvin’s lawyer thinks he has a chance to inherit money, but Melvin thinks that most of the inheritance will be siphoned away by the federal and state government. He is not angry though. He is happy to have the memory of Howard singing his Christmas song. He also recalls Howard asking to drive his truck. Melvin lets Howard take the wheel. As Melvin drops off to sleep, Howard drives and sings Bye Bye Blackbird. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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