Li'l Abner (1959)

113-115 mins | Musical comedy | December 1959

Full page view
HISTORY

In the opening credits, the phrase “Adapted from the Stage Production” precedes the credits of Lehman Engel, Philip J. Lang and Genevieve Pitot. "And Jubilation T. Cornpone" is listed at the end of the cast credits, although the "character" appears only as a statue prominently displayed in Dogpatch's central meeting area. As reported by contemporary news items, when producers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank purchased the rights to Al Capp’s popular comic strip in Aug 1955, it was with the intention of turning the property into a Broadway musical first and then a film. [According to a modern source, Alan Jay Lerner and Richard Rodgers had earlier, separately, obtained the stage rights to the comic strip for brief periods of time.] As noted by a 30 Sep 1955 HR news item, Paramount made a pre-production deal for the film rights to the proposed musical in a deal “said to involve over $300,000.” Paramount then largely underwrote the production costs of the highly successful, long-running stage version.
       According to a 9 Oct 1955 NYT article, if the musical was eventually produced as a film, Panama and Frank, composers Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul and choreographer-director Michael Kidd would adapt it for the screen on “a profit participation basis with Al Capp sharing in the deal.” Kidd dropped out of the planned film version, however, due to “other commitments,” according to a May 1959 HR news item. His assistant, Dee Dee Woods, choreographed the movie, based on Kidd’s original staging.
       According to an 8 Mar 1956 item in HR ’s “Rambling Reporter” column, Panama and Frank ... More Less

In the opening credits, the phrase “Adapted from the Stage Production” precedes the credits of Lehman Engel, Philip J. Lang and Genevieve Pitot. "And Jubilation T. Cornpone" is listed at the end of the cast credits, although the "character" appears only as a statue prominently displayed in Dogpatch's central meeting area. As reported by contemporary news items, when producers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank purchased the rights to Al Capp’s popular comic strip in Aug 1955, it was with the intention of turning the property into a Broadway musical first and then a film. [According to a modern source, Alan Jay Lerner and Richard Rodgers had earlier, separately, obtained the stage rights to the comic strip for brief periods of time.] As noted by a 30 Sep 1955 HR news item, Paramount made a pre-production deal for the film rights to the proposed musical in a deal “said to involve over $300,000.” Paramount then largely underwrote the production costs of the highly successful, long-running stage version.
       According to a 9 Oct 1955 NYT article, if the musical was eventually produced as a film, Panama and Frank, composers Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul and choreographer-director Michael Kidd would adapt it for the screen on “a profit participation basis with Al Capp sharing in the deal.” Kidd dropped out of the planned film version, however, due to “other commitments,” according to a May 1959 HR news item. His assistant, Dee Dee Woods, choreographed the movie, based on Kidd’s original staging.
       According to an 8 Mar 1956 item in HR ’s “Rambling Reporter” column, Panama and Frank and their partners originally wanted to cast Andy Griffith as “Li’l Abner” in both the stage and movie versions. As noted by contemporary news items and reviews of the film, Peter Palmer made first his Broadway debut and then his motion picture debut with Li’l Abner . According to a studio press release, Panama and Frank cast the young singer, a former football star who was then in the army, after seeing his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show . Although he appeared frequently on television, Palmer did not appear in another feature film until the 1987 Trans World Entertainment production Deep Space . Valerie Harper, who appears in Li'l Abner as one of the hillbilly wives, also worked primarily on television, notably as the title character in the show Rhoda , and did not again appear in a feature film until the 1974 Warner Bros. picture Freebie and the Bean .
       Along with Palmer, the majority of the cast from the Broadway show reprised their roles for Li'l Abner . The major exceptions were “Daisy Mae,” which was played onstage by Edie Adams, who won a Tony Award for the part; “Appassionata Von Climax,” played by Tina Louise; and “Mammy Yokum,” played by Charlotte Rae, although Billie Hayes did appear as Mammy in the second year of the Broadway production, as well as with the touring company before appearing in the film.
       As reported by HR news items, Panama and Frank wanted Adams, the wife of television comedian Ernie Kovacs, to reprise her role for the film, but she could not due to pregnancy. Other actresses considered for the part were Shirley MacLaine, Wynne Miller, who played the role on Broadway after Adams left, and Jeanne Carmen. Leslie Parrish, who won the role of Daisy Mae, had previously appeared in numerous films under her real name, Marjorie Hellen. Li’l Abner was the first picture in which she appeared under the name of Parrish. Madlyn Rhue and Anita Ekberg were considered for “Appassionata Von Climax,” for which Stella Stevens was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox.
       The song “I Wish It Could Be Otherwise” was the only song that did not appear in the Broadway show; according to a Paramount press release, the song was written for the show but was dropped after the initial tryout in Washington, D.C. Although the picture is set mostly outdoors in rural areas, it was filmed on Paramount sound stages on highly stylized, cartoon-like sets.
       According to a Jul 1959 HR news item, the producers intended to insert a joke into the film version Li’l Abner about the scandal-plagued novel Lolita , which was then being planned as a motion picture. The intended dialogue was to be about a twelve-year-old character named “Lolita,” whom “Marryin’ Sam” was hoping to marry off after her divorce became final. According to information in the film’s file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA strongly objected to the gag, and in the released film, although there is a young girl about whom Marryin’ Sam speculates, her age is not specified and she is called “Louella.” The PCA office also urged the producers to reconsider the name Appassionata Von Climax, saying that it was in “very bad taste.” The film received a “B,” or objectionable in part, rating from the National Catholic Legion of Decency, which Paramount protested but could not overturn.
       According to a Feb 1960 entry in HR 's "Rambling Reporter" column, the filmmakers were preparing four different versions of the picture for "various markets," with adjustments in the humor for different areas. The item explained that English audiences had not understood the joke about the Sears, Roebuck catalog that was kept in the outhouse, and so it was to be eliminated and replaced with "something British." No other information about alternate versions has been found, however.
       The film, which received mostly glowing reviews, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture; a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture—Musical; and a Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album. The soundtrack was a bestseller and was even released in an improvisational jazz version by noted jazz drummer Shelly Manne, composer-pianist André Previn and bassist Leroy Vinnegar. Although Panama and Frank had intended to mount other Broadway productions that would lead to films, according to contemporary news items, Li’l Abner was their only Broadway collaboration.
       Capp’s fanciful, often satiric comic strip was the genesis for “Sadie Hawkins Day.” Concocted by "Hekzebiah Hawkins," a resident of the fictional town of Dogpatch, Sadie Hawkins Day was first "held" on 15 Nov 1937 as a way for his homely daughter to catch a husband. Due to his readers’ enthusiasm for the event, Capp continued the tradition of the Sadie Hawkins Day race every year, although in 1952, Daisy Mae finally caught and married Li’l Abner. The holiday quickly became part of American culture and some colleges and high schools still hold Sadie Hawkins Dances, to which young women invite their male partners. Capp’s comic was so popular that Li’l Abner’s marriage to Daisy Mae was used as a cover story for Life magazine. The first film based on Capp’s comic was released by RKO in 1940. Also entitled Li’l Abner , the non-musical picture was directed by Albert S. Rogell and starred Granville Owen as Li’l Abner and Martha O’Driscoll as Daisy Mae (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). In 1971, NBC broadcast a one-hour television show based on the comic, directed by Gordon Wiles and starring Ray Young and Nancee Parkinson. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
9 Nov 1959.
---
Daily Variety
4 Nov 1959
p. 3, 15.
Film Daily
6 Nov 1959
p. 6.
Filmfacts
1959
pp. 306-308.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Mar 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1956
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
8 May 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 May 1959
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
22 May 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
26 May 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jun 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jun 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jun 1959
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 1959
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 1959
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 1960
p. 2.
Los Angeles Examiner
23 Apr 1959.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
17 Dec 1959.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Apr 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 May 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Dec 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Dec 1959.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
7 Nov 1959
p. 475, 477.
New York Times
9 Oct 1955.
---
New York Times
6 Jan 1957.
---
New York Times
12 Dec 1959
p. 19.
New Yorker
19 Dec 1959.
---
Newsweek
21 Dec 1959.
---
Time
21 Dec 1959.
---
Variety
4 Nov 1959
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Panama and Frank Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Company grip
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Stage production scenery by
Stage production scenery by
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Props
Props, dances
Standby painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward executed by
Women's ward
Men's ward
MUSIC
Mus scored and cond
Mus scored and cond/Vocal arr
Vocals by
Ballet mus arr
Mus consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Mus numbers staged by
Based on the orig staging by
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Body makeup
Hair style supv
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to the prod
Dial coach
Prod mgr
Asst prod mgr
Casting dir
Pub
Craft service
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the musical Li'l Abner , book by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, music by Gene de Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer (New York, 15 Nov 1956), which was based on the comic strip "Li'l Abner" by Al Capp, distributed by United Features Syndicate (1934--1977).
SONGS
"It's a Typical Day," "If I Had My Druthers," "Jubilation T. Cornpone," "Rag Off'n the Bush," "Namely You," "What's Good for General Bullmoose," "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands," "I'm Past My Prime," "Put 'Em Back the Way They Wuz," "I Wish It Could Be Otherwise" and "The Matrimonial Stomp," music by Gene de Paul, lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1959
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 11 December 1959
Los Angeles opening: 16 December 1959
Production Date:
8 June 1959--11 August 1959
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corp. & Triad Productions
Copyright Date:
11 December 1959
Copyright Number:
LP15061
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
VistaVision Motion Picture High-Fidelity
Duration(in mins):
113-115
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19360
SYNOPSIS

In the hillbilly community of Dogpatch, the local women eagerly await the upcoming running of the annual Sadie Hawkins Day race, during which they can catch a husband. The most determined woman is Daisy Mae, who has chased after the handsome, carefree Li’l Abner Yokum every year without success. Abner’s parents, Pappy and Pansy “Mammy” Yokum, are hopeful that Daisy Mae will catch Abner, whom Mammy daily doses with her own “Yokumberry tonic” to make him strong and healthy. Unfortunately for Daisy Mae, Earthquake McGoon, who has recently been crowned “world champion dirtiest wrestler,” desires to marry her himself, even though, according to the “code of the hills,” they cannot be wed unless she catches him in the race. Hoping to find a solution to his dilemma, Earthquake allies himself with the incompetent Senator Jack S. Phogbound, who, at a village meeting, reveals to everyone that he has discovered a way for Dogpatch to become famous. Phogbound explains that in order to protect Las Vegas from fallout from nearby atomic bomb testing, the U.S. government decided to find the “most unnecessary” town in the country instead to “blow off the face of the earth” with an atom bomb. Dogpatch, having been determined to be the most useless place in the U.S., has been chosen, and so the citizens must evacuate immediately, according to visiting scientist Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale. At first all are pleased by their new distinction until they realize that they will have to leave Dogpatch before the race is held. Daisy Mae is especially horrified when Mayor Daniel D. Dawgmeat confirms that without the race, any male who ... +


In the hillbilly community of Dogpatch, the local women eagerly await the upcoming running of the annual Sadie Hawkins Day race, during which they can catch a husband. The most determined woman is Daisy Mae, who has chased after the handsome, carefree Li’l Abner Yokum every year without success. Abner’s parents, Pappy and Pansy “Mammy” Yokum, are hopeful that Daisy Mae will catch Abner, whom Mammy daily doses with her own “Yokumberry tonic” to make him strong and healthy. Unfortunately for Daisy Mae, Earthquake McGoon, who has recently been crowned “world champion dirtiest wrestler,” desires to marry her himself, even though, according to the “code of the hills,” they cannot be wed unless she catches him in the race. Hoping to find a solution to his dilemma, Earthquake allies himself with the incompetent Senator Jack S. Phogbound, who, at a village meeting, reveals to everyone that he has discovered a way for Dogpatch to become famous. Phogbound explains that in order to protect Las Vegas from fallout from nearby atomic bomb testing, the U.S. government decided to find the “most unnecessary” town in the country instead to “blow off the face of the earth” with an atom bomb. Dogpatch, having been determined to be the most useless place in the U.S., has been chosen, and so the citizens must evacuate immediately, according to visiting scientist Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale. At first all are pleased by their new distinction until they realize that they will have to leave Dogpatch before the race is held. Daisy Mae is especially horrified when Mayor Daniel D. Dawgmeat confirms that without the race, any male who obtains the consent of a female’s kinfolk may claim her in marriage. Daisy Mae’s worthless relatives, the foul-smelling and evil-tempered Scragg clan, have already accepted a bribe from Earthquake, and so she will be forced to marry him. The infuriated Mammy and Pappy lead their friends in attempting to find something that will prove Dogpatch is necessary, but even when storekeeper Available Jones shows Finsdale the statuesque Stupefyin’ Jones, whose every wiggle can stupefy a man into near-unconsciousness, the scientist dismisses their efforts. Daisy Mae is encouraged, however, as Abner had proposed to her when Earthquake tried to establish his matrimonial claim. When the local Indians give Finsdale’s assistant a sample of their Kickapoo Joy Juice, the powerful beverage scorches his throat, so he gratefully takes a swig of Mammy’s Yokumberry tonic. Everyone is astonished when the skinny assistant is transformed into a muscle-bound youth, just like Abner, prompting Finsdale and the military representatives to decide to take the tonic, Abner and several other Dogpatch men to Washington, D.C. for testing. If the tonic is a success, Dogpatch will be saved, as the only tree bearing Yokumberries grows in Mammy’s yard. The tonic appears to be a sensation, and when Abner announces his intention to give it to the U.S. government for free, private businessmen are irritated. Especially irate is the rapacious General Bullmoose, who believes that he can make a fortune with the Yokum drug. Bullmoose orders his “executive secretary,” the dimwitted Appassionata Von Climax, to romance Abner, but even though Abner is awed by Appassionata’s charms, he insists on giving away the secret formula. When Abner reveals that he is going home for the next day’s race, Bullmoose decides to enter Appassionata in the race and arrange for her to catch and marry Abner, which will then entitle her to half his property, or more if she “accidentally” becomes a widow. Back in Dogpatch, Abner tells Daisy Mae that although he hopes that she will catch him, he will not be able to help but run as quickly as possible. Dismayed, Daisy Mae arranges with Available for the services of Stupefyin’ during the race in the hopes that she will stop Abner long enough for Daisy Mae to catch him. When Bullmoose arrives, however, Jones sells him the use of Evil Eye Fleagle, a twitchy villain whose “whammy” renders the recipient incapable of movement. Bullmoose intends to have Fleagle whammy Abner so that Appassionata can catch him, and during the race, despite the best efforts of Daisy Mae and Stupefyin’, Fleagle and Appassionata are triumphant. Masking her heartbreak, Daisy Mae acknowledges that Abner now belongs to her rival, and Abner is taken back to Washington, D.C. Soon after, a worried Mammy conjures up a vision revealing Bullmoose’s plans to have Fleagle “whammy” Abner into committing suicide after inducing him to reveal the secret tonic formula to Appassionata. Frantic, Daisy Mae agrees to marry Earthquake if he rescues Abner, and so the couple, along with preacher Marryin’ Sam, the Yokums and other Dogpatchers, race to D.C., where they crash a fancy party that Bullmoose is throwing for the engaged couple. Although Abner refuses to listen to Daisy Mae’s assertions about Appassionata’s intentions, Earthquake saves the day by using a tray to deflect Fleagle’s truth-telling whammy onto Bullmoose. When Mammy then questions the general, he confirms his nefarious plans. Bullmoose and Appassionata are arrested, but just when the hillbillies think that they are safe, military officers announce that the evacuation of Dogpatch will go through as planned because the tonic is a failure. When Mammy and the others rush to the laboratory for an explanation, Finsdale demonstrates that the tonic, while making men physically perfect and eternally youthful, robs them of any romantic feelings. Mammy is especially distraught, as she realizes that it is her fault that Abner cannot love Daisy Mae. Finsdale insists that Abner stay for further study, but after the others leave, Pappy assures him that there is another potion that can correct his problem, on the condition, that he truly wants it. Abner assures him that he does, and so Pappy wires Sam to stall Daisy Mae and Earthquake’s wedding. The next day, Sam does his best to prolong the ceremony, and Daisy Mae helps by bringing in all of her various Scragg relatives, claiming that they want to live with her and her rich husband. Disgusted by the Scraggs, Earthquake readily cedes Daisy Mae’s hand to Abner when he arrives suddenly. Pappy gives Abner a swig of his special potion, which, he confides to Mammy, is merely creek water. Because of Abner’s belief, however, the liquid works and he happily agrees to wed Daisy Mae. Before the ceremony can be completed, however, the military demands that the evacuation begin. When the hillbillies then attempt to dismantle the statue of Jubilation T. Cornpone, Dogpatch’s founder, they uncover a tablet written by Abraham Lincoln, declaring that because of Cornpone’s ineptitude in the Confederate Army, the North was able to win the Civil War. With the statue pronounced a national monument, the town is saved from being blown up, and Daisy Mae and Abner celebrate with an enthusiastic kiss. +

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

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.