Doctor Dolittle (1967)

152 mins | Musical, Comedy, Children's works | 20 December 1967

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HISTORY

Contemporary sources alternately referred to the title as Doctor Dolittle and Dr. Dolittle throughout development, production, and distribution.
       On 30 Apr 1962, DV reported that Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. had signed Helen Winston to produce a feature film adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s twelve “Doctor Dolittle” children’s books, which were published between 1920 and 1952. According to a 4 Oct 1967 Var article, Lofting’s surviving family members established a deal with Winston’s company, Luster Enterprises, in late Dec 1961, with plans for a spring start date. This production schedule was pushed back an additional year, at which point Winston entered negotiations with Twentieth Century-Fox in Apr 1962, allowing her to supervise the development of a first-draft screenplay. Her work on the script was completed by Jul 1962, but Fox decided to cancel the option two months later. It was not until Dec 1963 that Fox revived the project after receiving interest from Apjac Productions, Inc., owned by producer Arthur P. Jacobs, who was granted film rights in early 1964. A 14 Jun 1964 NYT news story announced Jacobs’s intent to collaborate with Broadway and film lyricist Alan Jay Lerner to develop the script as a musical vehicle for Rex Harrison. According to the 24 Jan 1966 DV, Lerner hoped to work with André Previn, but plans fell through due to Previn’s schedule.
       A full year after Lerner’s attachment, the 16 Jun 1965 Var stated that he had been replaced by Leslie Bricusse, in his first official film job. In a 19 Jul 1966 profile for the LAT, Bricusse recalled his first meeting with ... More Less

Contemporary sources alternately referred to the title as Doctor Dolittle and Dr. Dolittle throughout development, production, and distribution.
       On 30 Apr 1962, DV reported that Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. had signed Helen Winston to produce a feature film adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s twelve “Doctor Dolittle” children’s books, which were published between 1920 and 1952. According to a 4 Oct 1967 Var article, Lofting’s surviving family members established a deal with Winston’s company, Luster Enterprises, in late Dec 1961, with plans for a spring start date. This production schedule was pushed back an additional year, at which point Winston entered negotiations with Twentieth Century-Fox in Apr 1962, allowing her to supervise the development of a first-draft screenplay. Her work on the script was completed by Jul 1962, but Fox decided to cancel the option two months later. It was not until Dec 1963 that Fox revived the project after receiving interest from Apjac Productions, Inc., owned by producer Arthur P. Jacobs, who was granted film rights in early 1964. A 14 Jun 1964 NYT news story announced Jacobs’s intent to collaborate with Broadway and film lyricist Alan Jay Lerner to develop the script as a musical vehicle for Rex Harrison. According to the 24 Jan 1966 DV, Lerner hoped to work with André Previn, but plans fell through due to Previn’s schedule.
       A full year after Lerner’s attachment, the 16 Jun 1965 Var stated that he had been replaced by Leslie Bricusse, in his first official film job. In a 19 Jul 1966 profile for the LAT, Bricusse recalled his first meeting with Arthur P. Jacobs after adapting a musical adaptation of André Obey’s French play, Noah, which involved animals, and the two agreed to work on Doctor Dolittle when Noah was delayed. According to Bricusse, his screenplay was largely inspired by the third and fourth books in Lofting’s series, Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office (1923) and Doctor Dolittle’s Circus (1924). As the title role was intended for Harrison, songs were tailored for his unique song recitation and acting delivery, while the character of “Emma Fairfax” was created specially for the film.
       A 19 Jun 1966 NYT article suggested that Harrison stepped off the project during this transition period until Bricusse’s deal was secured, but a 17 Apr 1969 DV review of John Gregory Dunne’s book, The Studio, offered a more detailed version of the process by which directors were considered for Harrison’s approval. When Harrison objected to Richard Fleischer, Dunne alleged that the actor resigned, at which point the studio replaced him with Christopher Plummer. Once Harrison agreed to return, Plummer was dismissed with $300,000 pay.
       With Fleischer officially signed to direct, he and Jacobs quickly began searching for actors to fill out the supporting cast. Items in the 29 Sep 1965 DV and 9 Dec 1965 LAT indicated that Linda Bennett and Hayley Mills were considered for female roles before the casting of Samantha Eggar. The 19 Dec 1965 NYT announced that Sidney Poitier had been assigned to play “Prince Bumpo Kahbooboo” of the fictional African country, “Jolliginki”—a role that would include at least one song titled, “I’ll Fight A Lion.” According to a 13 Apr 1966 Var item, composer and arranger Irwin Kostal disclosed that Shani Wallis would provide the singing voice for Eggar, while Poitier’s vocals would also be overdubbed. Just a few weeks later, however, the 5 May 1966 DV announced Poitier’s departure from the project, prompting Jacobs and Bricusse to remove his character from the script altogether. A 29 Aug 1966 DV brief suggested that Hugh Griffith was originally cast as “Albert Blossom,” but he was replaced by Richard Attenborough.
       A casting announcement in the 4 Aug 1966 DV also included the following actors, whose participation could not be confirmed: John Parker, Alice Bushell, Thomas Kelly, David Folland, Clarence Mortimer, George Mossman, Dan Cressy, Lois Purvin, Harold Bowley, Eugene Bloom, and Jill Wynner. Ginny Tyler provided the voice of “Polynesia” the parrot, as was confirmed by her obituary in the 30 Jul 2012 DV.
       Principal photography began 27 Jun 1966 in the English village of Castle Combe, which many sources noted had recently received the distinction of the British Travel Association’s “most beautiful village.” Articles in the 28 Jun 1966 NYT and 29 Jun 1966 LAT described the many modifications made to transform the town into the Victorian port of “Puddleby-on-the-Marsh,” including the creation of a sandbag dam intended to block the trout stream enough to install a number of fishing boats and artificial seaweed. Greenery was also uprooted to make way for retaining walls, and television antennas removed from houses. Although the filmmakers received permission from the city council, the large crew’s imposing presence incited mixed reactions from locals, such as twenty-two-year-old baronet Lieutenant Sir Ranulph Twiselton-Wykeham-Fiennes and several comrades, who were tried and ultimately fined for planting three bombs near studio equipment. One explosion caused minor damage on the first day of production, although police disposed of the others. After the incident, a 14 Jul 1966 DV article referred to two other sabotage attempts, and extra security teams were hired to supervise the set.
       In addition to these complications, inclement weather prevented the production from continuing in England. Although the schedule had allotted eight to ten weeks for exteriors, the 27 Jul 1966 DV announced that the unit was returning to Los Angeles, CA, to continue filming in the San Fernando Valley. According to the 19 Aug 1966 DV, some scenes took place at Fox’s movie ranch at the current Malibu Creek State Park, while the 5 Oct 1966 edition claimed that a circus sequence originally planned for U.K. locations was instead shot at Placerita Canyon with some 200 background actors. The following month, the 10 Nov 1966 and 22 Nov 1966 DV indicated that the cast and crew had relocated to the Caribbean for eighteen days in Barbados and Saint Lucia. Items in the 2 Dec 1966 DV and 14 Dec 1966 Var indicated that heavy tropical storms caused further delays, stalling the unit’s move back to California until mid-Dec, when they filmed a sequence in Carmel and completed studio work. The following month, the 11 Jan 1967 Var estimated that the production had run approximately fifty days over schedule, with an anticipated wrap date of 30 Jan 1967.
       On 3 Apr 1967, DV reported that the cast and crew had reassembled for an added four-minute, $500,000 musical number. A DV brief two days later revealed that the expenses included the cost of temporarily closing production of Warner Bros. Pictures’ Sweet November (1968, see entry) so star Anthony Newley could complete the necessary footage for Doctor Dolittle.
       Although initial estimates placed the budget at around $6 million, various contemporary sources cited a final production cost of $15—$17 million. A 4 Oct 1967 Var article claimed that $1 million was spent on Samantha Eggar’s wardrobe alone—a figure that was matched, and likely exceeded, by the use of several hundred live animals, with trainers and feedings amounting to weekly fees of $4,500. Due to quarantine laws, separate sets of animals had to be hired for each country of location, with multiple animals often requiring more than one double as they grew in size throughout production. For example, trainers worked with nearly forty piglets to portray “Gub-Gub” the pig due to the species’ quick growth rate. The 14 Jul 1966 DV reported that “Mary” the rhinoceros fell ill during the rainy shoot in England, and another was purchased for $9,000, with an additional $11,000 spent to ship the animal from Mombasa, Kenya. The 11 Jan 1967 Var corroborated this story, and revealed that a giraffe also died during shooting. The 19 Aug 1966 DV claimed that Jungleland trainers of Thousand Oaks, CA, did not use tranquilizers on the animals, but a squirrel in England was pacified with doses of gin. The crocodile was allegedly the only fake animal used in the entire picture.
       Although the troubled production had concluded in early summer, problems continued, as the 31 Aug 1966 DV reported that original producer Helen Winston had filed a lawsuit against Arthur P. Jacobs and Apjac Productions for inducing the Lofting estate to break their pre-existing deal with Winston’s company. The 4 Oct 1967 Var relayed other complaints in her affidavit, which pointed out that Winston was the one to suggest filming in Castle Combe, England, while Bricusse’s script included an “animal strike” that was unique to Winston’s early draft and not derived from the original books. Winston requested a restraining order against the film’s release unless the producers agreed to give her a screen credit reading, “Conceived by Helen Winston.” Bricusse retains sole credit.
       Even before filming was officially completed, Fox was confident in the film’s appeal and began securing roadshow premiere dates and an unprecedented promotional campaign, which a 17 Sep 1967 article in the Minneapolis Tribune speculated to include $100 million worth of merchandising, eighty-seven versions of the soundtrack album recorded by such performers as Sophia Loren and Kate Smith, and book tie-ins from several publishing houses. Items in the 24 May 1967 Var and 7 Aug 1967 DV also referred to album versions sung by Bobby Darin and Sammy Davis, Jr. The first public preview screening was held in Sep 1967 at the Mann Theater in Minneapolis, MN, and the event was allegedly not well received.
       Doctor Dolittle premiered 12 Dec 1967 in London, England, as part of a royal benefit event attended by Queen Elizabeth II. Early reports in the 25 Jan 1967 Var and 20 Feb 1967 DV indicated plans for a two-night New York City premiere sponsored by Project Hope; however, a 13 Dec 1967 Var brief listed the charity event for the evening of 19 Dec 1967 at the Loew’s State Theatre, with regular “hardticket” sales to begin the following day. According to the 13 Feb 1967 LAT, proceeds for the 21 Dec 1967 Los Angeles premiere at the Paramount Theatre were donated to the Motion Picture Relief Fund. The event was followed by a circus-themed champagne party, and a children’s matinee premiere was scheduled for the next afternoon, marking the beginning of its regular bookings. The film was not a commercial success, with several sources referring to its box-office returns as a “letdown” for Fox. A 21 May 1969 DV claimed that studio head Richard D. Zanuck refused to discuss exact figures in reference to its financial losses.
       Despite this, the film won Academy Awards for Music (Song) for “Talk To The Animals,” and Special Visual Effects, and received seven nominations in the categories of Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Music (Original Music Score), Music (Scoring of Music—adaptation or treatment), Sound, and Best Picture. Richard Attenborough’s role as Blossom earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture. Additional nominations included Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Rex Harrison), Best Original Score – Motion Picture, Best Original Song – Motion Picture (“Talk To The Animals”), and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
30 Apr 1962
p. 1.
Daily Variety
29 Sep 1965
p. 2.
Daily Variety
24 Jan 1966
p. 3.
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1966
p. 1.
Daily Variety
5 May 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
14 Jul 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
27 Jul 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
4 Aug 1966
p. 4.
Daily Variety
19 Aug 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
30 Aug 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
31 Aug 1966
p. 1.
Daily Variety
5 Oct 1966
p. 12.
Daily Variety
10 Nov 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
22 Nov 1966
p. 3.
Daily Variety
2 Dec 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
20 Feb 1967
p. 21.
Daily Variety
3 Apr 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Apr 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
7 Aug 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
15 Dec 1967
p. 3.
Daily Variety
17 Apr 1969
p. 26.
Daily Variety
21 May 1969.
---
Daily Variety
30 Jul 2012
p. 34.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jun 1966
Section D, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
19 Jul 1966
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
13 Feb 1967
Section C, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
24 Dec 1967
Section C, p. 12.
Minneapolis Tribune
17 Sep 1967
p. 2.
New York Times
14 Jun 1964
Section X, p. 9.
New York Times
19 Dec 1965
Section X, p. 13.
New York Times
19 Jun 1966
p. 97.
New York Times
28 Jun 1966
p. 47.
New York Times
20 Dec 1967
p. 54.
Variety
16 Jun 1965
p. 20.
Variety
8 Sep 1965
p. 17.
Variety
13 Apr 1966
p. 4.
Variety
15 Jun 1966
p. 5, 18.
Variety
15 Jun 1966
p. 26.
Variety
29 Jun 1966
p. 17.
Variety
29 Jun 1966
p. 20.
Variety
17 Aug 1966
p. 2.
Variety
12 Oct 1966
p. 29.
Variety
14 Dec 1966
p. 7.
Variety
11 Jan 1967
p. 4.
Variety
25 Jan 1967
p. 14.
Variety
8 Mar 1967
p. 7.
Variety
24 May 1967
p. 44.
Variety
4 Oct 1967
p. 5, 20.
Variety
13 Dec 1967
p. 15.
Variety
13 Dec 1967
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Arthur P. Jacobs Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus score & cond
Mus score & cond
Vocal supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Title & title des
Title & title des
DANCE
Dance and mus numbers staged by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Animals and birds supplied and trained by
Gaffer
Animal supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the "Doctor Dolittle" stories by Hugh Lofting.
AUTHOR
SONGS
"My Friend the Doctor," "The Vegetarian," "Talk to the Animals," "At the Crossroads," "I've Never Seen Anything Like It," "When I Look Into Your Eyes," "Like Animals," "After Today," "Fabulous Places," "I Think I Like You," "Doctor Dolittle," "Something in Your Smile," "Beautiful Things" and "Where Are the Words," music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Dr. Dolittle
Release Date:
20 December 1967
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 19 December 1967
New York opening: 20 December 1967
Los Angeles premiere: 21 December 1967
Los Angeles opening: 22 December 1967
Production Date:
27 June 1966--late January 1967
early April 1967
Copyright Claimant:
Apjac Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
19 December 1967
Copyright Number:
LP35183
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Color
De Luxe
gauge
35 & 70
Widescreen/ratio
Todd-AO
Duration(in mins):
152
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In the mid-19th-century English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, kindly Doctor Dolittle has grown disenchanted with human beings and tends solely to the needs of animals. With the help of his parrot, Polynesia, he has mastered the dialects of some 500 animals. His only human friends are Matthew Mugg, an Irish cat food seller, and Tommy Stubbins, a local lad. The doctor's immediate concern is raising money to search for the legendary Great Pink Sea Snail. When a friend sends him the rare pushmi-pullyu (a two-headed llama), the doctor takes the animal to the rundown circus of Mr. Blossom and exhibits it for profit. At the circus he befriends Sophie, a lonely seal who is pining for her mate at the North Pole. Sympathetic to her plight, Dolittle dresses Sophie in a woman's shawl and bonnet and sets her free by tossing her into the English Channel. His act of mercy is misinterpreted, however, and he is charged with murder, and although acquitted, he is committed to an asylum. Matthew, Tommy, and the doctor's animal friends arrange for his escape, and, accompanied by pretty Emma Fairfax, they all set sail to find the Great Pink Sea Snail. They are shipwrecked during a storm at sea and cast upon a floating island ruled by a giant native called William Shakespeare the Tenth. The newcomers are blamed for a sudden spell of chilly weather and sentenced to death, but Doctor Dolittle saves the day by both curing an epidemic of colds and arranging for the giant blue whale to push the island back to its position on the African mainland. Then the Great Pink Sea Snail arrives for its annual visit, also suffering ... +


In the mid-19th-century English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, kindly Doctor Dolittle has grown disenchanted with human beings and tends solely to the needs of animals. With the help of his parrot, Polynesia, he has mastered the dialects of some 500 animals. His only human friends are Matthew Mugg, an Irish cat food seller, and Tommy Stubbins, a local lad. The doctor's immediate concern is raising money to search for the legendary Great Pink Sea Snail. When a friend sends him the rare pushmi-pullyu (a two-headed llama), the doctor takes the animal to the rundown circus of Mr. Blossom and exhibits it for profit. At the circus he befriends Sophie, a lonely seal who is pining for her mate at the North Pole. Sympathetic to her plight, Dolittle dresses Sophie in a woman's shawl and bonnet and sets her free by tossing her into the English Channel. His act of mercy is misinterpreted, however, and he is charged with murder, and although acquitted, he is committed to an asylum. Matthew, Tommy, and the doctor's animal friends arrange for his escape, and, accompanied by pretty Emma Fairfax, they all set sail to find the Great Pink Sea Snail. They are shipwrecked during a storm at sea and cast upon a floating island ruled by a giant native called William Shakespeare the Tenth. The newcomers are blamed for a sudden spell of chilly weather and sentenced to death, but Doctor Dolittle saves the day by both curing an epidemic of colds and arranging for the giant blue whale to push the island back to its position on the African mainland. Then the Great Pink Sea Snail arrives for its annual visit, also suffering from a nasty cold. Once cured, the grateful creature offers the inside of its spacious shell to transport everyone back to England. Dolittle, however, elects to remain behind rather than risk reimprisonment. After his friends have left, and he finds himself pining for Emma, Sophie the seal pays him a visit to announce that all the animals in England are on strike because of the injustices done to him and, further, that the authorities are anxious for his return. Dolittle quickly designs a saddle for the Giant Lunar Moth and soars off in the moonlight for a speedy return to Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. Musical numbers : "My Friend the Doctor" (Matthew); "The Vegetarian," "Talk to the Animals" (Dolittle); "At the Crossroads" (Emma); "I've Never Seen Anything Like It" (Albert, Dolittle, Mrs. Blossom, & Ensemble), "When I Look Into Your Eyes," "Like Animals" (Dolittle); "After Today" (Matthew); "Fabulous Places" (Emma); "I Think I Like You" (Dolittle, Emma); "Doctor Dolittle" (Matthew & Ensemble); "Something in Your Smile" (Dolittle). +

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

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