The Comic (1969)

94 mins | Comedy-drama | 19 November 1969

Director:

Carl Reiner

Producers:

Carl Reiner, Aaron Ruben

Cinematographer:

Wallace Kelley

Editor:

Adrienne Fazan

Production Designer:

Walter Simonds

Production Company:

Acre Enterprises
Full page view
HISTORY

The 3 May 1968 DV reported that actor-filmmaker Carl Reiner and his writing partner, Aaron Ruben, recently completed the first draft of a screenplay for actor Dick Van Dyke. The working titles was Billy Bright, Silent Film Comedian, Dead at 78. Production charts in the 28 Jun 1968 DV stated that filming was scheduled to begin 19 Aug 1968. However, production was delayed by the departure of producer Harold Hecht, as noted in the 16 Jul 1968 DV. The 7 Aug 1968 DV reported that Reiner and Ruben replaced Hecht as producers.
       According to the 21 Aug 1968 DV, Dick Van Dyke was hoping to cast his former television co-star, Mary Tyler Moore, as his leading lady, but she had a previous obligation to appear in A Change of Habit (1969, see entry). One week later, the 28 Aug 1968 DV announced actress Michele Lee for the role of “Mary Gibson.” The 28 Aug 1968 LAT revealed that Lee postponed a singing engagement at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, CA, to make the picture. She was currently attending wardrobe fittings and rehearsals at Columbia Studios. An item in the 3 Sep 1968 DV stated that both Lee and Van Dyke would appear to age forty-eight years during the course of the picture. Several silent-film comedians were expected to appear in cameo roles, along with writer-producer-director Reiner as “a rotten agent.” Principal photography was set to begin 11 Sep 1968, according to production charts in the ... More Less

The 3 May 1968 DV reported that actor-filmmaker Carl Reiner and his writing partner, Aaron Ruben, recently completed the first draft of a screenplay for actor Dick Van Dyke. The working titles was Billy Bright, Silent Film Comedian, Dead at 78. Production charts in the 28 Jun 1968 DV stated that filming was scheduled to begin 19 Aug 1968. However, production was delayed by the departure of producer Harold Hecht, as noted in the 16 Jul 1968 DV. The 7 Aug 1968 DV reported that Reiner and Ruben replaced Hecht as producers.
       According to the 21 Aug 1968 DV, Dick Van Dyke was hoping to cast his former television co-star, Mary Tyler Moore, as his leading lady, but she had a previous obligation to appear in A Change of Habit (1969, see entry). One week later, the 28 Aug 1968 DV announced actress Michele Lee for the role of “Mary Gibson.” The 28 Aug 1968 LAT revealed that Lee postponed a singing engagement at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, CA, to make the picture. She was currently attending wardrobe fittings and rehearsals at Columbia Studios. An item in the 3 Sep 1968 DV stated that both Lee and Van Dyke would appear to age forty-eight years during the course of the picture. Several silent-film comedians were expected to appear in cameo roles, along with writer-producer-director Reiner as “a rotten agent.” Principal photography was set to begin 11 Sep 1968, according to production charts in the 30 Aug 1968 DV. The title was shortened to Billy Bright.
       The 3 Nov 1968 LAT reported that Columbia Pictures initiated the production, hiring Reiner to direct Dick Van Dyke in a proposed screenplay titled Baggy Pants. After Reiner brought Ruben onto the project, the pair viewed “hundreds” of early silent comedies at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Reiner insisted that the title character was not based on any particular silent comedian, intending the film as a “commentary” on the entertainment industry, in which careers rise and fall very quickly.
       At the time of the article, location filming was underway at Paradise Cove in Malibu, CA, a popular location for silent comedies because of its steep cliffs. Veterans of the period were included among the cast and crew, such as diminutive character actor Billy Curtis, and director of photography W. Wallace “Wally” Kelly. Kelly revealed that he was filming some of the silent comedy footage at eighteen frames per second, rather than the standard twenty-four, to simulate the “old jerky movements” of early cinema. Four weeks later, the 1 Dec 1968 LAT printed a letter from filmmaker and historian Peter Bogdanovich, who explained that, while silent pictures were filmed at fewer frames per second, they were also projected at those speeds, and therefore “had no ‘jerky movement’ or speedup action (unless it was desired).” Bogdanovich went on to blame “uncaring or unknowing film and television producers” who “have continued and popularized this myth.” Despite Bogdanovich’s concerns, silent sequences in the film were projected at their correct speed.
       From 30 Sep through 4 Oct 1968, a series of quarter-page advertisements appeared in DV, each with a different image of Van Dyke as “Billy Bright,” soliciting work for the forgotten comedian.
       The 16 Oct 1968 DV noted that actress Jeff Donnell, cast as a nurse in the film, recently completed a course in practical nursing at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles, CA.
       The picture marked the final screen appearance of veteran actress Pert Kelton, who died of a stroke on 30 Oct 1968, only days after completing her scenes. Two weeks earlier, Kelton told the 17 Oct 1968 DV that she accepted the role despite her preference for the stage, saying “Actors are like fruit pickers. They go where the fruit is.” It was only her third screen role in the past thirty years.
       The 24 Jan 1969 DV noted that Reiner was in the process of editing the film. Columbia included the title among its “continuing” publicity campaigns in the 28 Jan 1969 DV. On 14 Feb 1969, DV reported that the studio, pleased with Reiner’s work, was in negotiations for a new production deal with the filmmaker.
       According to the 27 Feb 1969 DV, Michele Lee was summoned to the Columbia lot for an additional scene, three months after the completion of principal photography. The pregnant actress anticipated mostly close-up shots. Van Dyke was also called back to add voice-over narration. On 29 Apr 1969, DV announced that the title was changed to The Comic. While vacationing in AZ, Van Dyke recorded his voice-over at the radio station he owned in nearby Phoenix. The film received an “M” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), as noted in the 25 Jun 1969 Var.
       The Comic opened 19 Sep 1969 in New York City. While the 5 Nov 1969 DV argued that the picture would appeal only to members of the entertainment industry, the 5 Nov 1969 LAT declared it a work of art, adding that Van Dyke’s performance could have won him an Academy Award if the Columbia had provided sufficient publicity to accompany the release.
       Four weeks later, Reiner complained to the 3 Dec 1969 Var that the film was not adequately publicized. After being “rushed” into New York City and Los Angeles, CA, openings as part of a double feature with The Desperados (1969, see entry), it was relegated to second billing within the first two weeks. By the time the picture began garnering positive reviews and “word-of-mouth,” it was virtually out of circulation. Reiner noted that critics and movie professionals were generally uninformed of the few preview screenings sponsored by the studio, and cited the LAT review, which blamed Columbia for its inadequate promotion. Countering Reiner’s accusations, Columbia executive Richard Kahn claimed the picture was given the same consideration as any other release, adding that the filmmaker was directly involved in planning the campaign. Despite their efforts, critical and public response “proved disappointing.”
       Casting announcements appeared in several periodicals during the course of production. Among them were Irene Tedrow as Billy Bright’s mother (12 Sep 19 DV ), Mel Berger as “Fatso” (18 Sep 1968 Var ), Peter Brocco as a preacher (3 Oct 1968 LAT), Manton Moreland (16 Oct 1968 Var), Maurice Dallimore (17 Sep 1968 DV), Vic Christy (25 Sep 1968 DV), Sheila English, Syleste Michaels, and Christopher Ross (30 Sep 1968 DV), Bill Zuckert and Scott James (10 Oct 1968 DV), Ottola Nesmith and Suzie Kaye (11 Oct 1968 DV), Frank Mathias, Patrick Campbell, and Dick Winslow (17 Oct 1968 DV), Joyce Easton (21 Oct 1968 DV), Alvin Hammer, Brick Huston, and Priscilla Garcia (24 Oct 1968 DV), Bob Rhodes (28 Oct 1968 DV), Linda Burton (11 Nov 1968 DV), Harry Fleer and Lou Kane (15 Nov 1968 DV), and Howard Dayton (20 Nov 1968 DV).
       “Film Assignments” in the 25 Sep 1968 DV included the following crew members: Joe Ellis, second assistant director; John Poer, trainee assistant director; Richard Johnson, camera operator; Gene Liggett and Frank Hale, camera assistants; Bill Todd, assistant film editor; Bill Hamilton , boom; Hank Edds and Mark Reedall, makeup; Susan Germaine, hairstylist; Dick Butz, Bob Grimm, Edna Taylor, and Kathryn Towne, costumers; Paul Stewart, special effects; Tom Coleman and Ronnie De Waay, properties; Frances McDowell, script supervisor; Roberta Sherry, script supervisor apprentice; John Monte, still photography; Joe Sawyer, transportation; Eugene Posateri, leadman; Harold Hansen, gaffer; William Hodgins, best boy; Carl Manoogian and Howard “Stormy” Boyles, grips; Albert “Red” Ducharme, crane operator; Bob Lawless, painter; Art Jones, craft service; Bob Fender, unit publicist; Dutch Hoge, cableman.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
3 May 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Jun 1968
p. 8.
Daily Variety
12 Jul 1968
p. 6.
Daily Variety
16 Jul 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
19 Jul 1968
p. 9.
Daily Variety
7 Aug 1968
p. 10.
Daily Variety
21 Aug 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Aug 1968
p. 3.
Daily Variety
30 Aug 1968
p. 9.
Daily Variety
3 Sep 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
12 Sep 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1968
p. 10.
Daily Variety
17 Sep 1968
p. 6.
Daily Variety
25 Sep 1968
p. 4, 15.
Daily Variety
30 Sep 1968
p. 4, 7.
Daily Variety
1 Oct 1968
p. 11.
Daily Variety
2 Oct 1968
p. 6, 8.
Daily Variety
3 Oct 1968
p. 6.
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1968
p. 6.
Daily Variety
10 Oct 1968
p. 4.
Daily Variety
11 Oct 1968
p. 8.
Daily Variety
16 Oct 1968
p. 13.
Daily Variety
17 Oct 1968
p. 4, 13.
Daily Variety
21 Oct 1968
p. 4.
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1968
p. 4.
Daily Variety
28 Oct 1968
p. 4.
Daily Variety
31 Oct 1968
p. 27.
Daily Variety
11 Nov 1968
p. 4.
Daily Variety
15 Nov 1968
p. 6.
Daily Variety
20 Nov 1968
p. 6.
Daily Variety
24 Jan 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Jan 1969
p. 3.
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
27 Feb 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
29 Apr 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Nov 1969
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
28 Aug 1968
Section E, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
3 Oct 1968
Section F, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
3 Nov 1968
Section Q, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
1 Dec 1968
Section S, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
31 Oct 1968
Section A, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
5 Nov 1969
Section F, p. 13.
Variety
18 Sep 1968
p. 77.
Variety
16 Oct 1968
p. 77.
Variety
25 Jun 1969
p. 28.
Variety
12 Nov 1969
p. 26.
Variety
26 Nov 1969
p. 9.
Variety
3 Dec 1969
p. 5.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2nd unit photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photogic eff
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
SOURCES
SONGS
"The Comic," composer undetermined, performed by Dennis Yost and The Classics IV.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Billy Bright
Billy Bright, Silent Film Comedian, Dead at 78
Baggy Pants
Release Date:
19 November 1969
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 19 November 1969
Production Date:
11 September--late November 1968
late February--early March 1969
Copyright Claimant:
Acre Enterprises
Copyright Date:
1 November 1969
Copyright Number:
LP37546
Physical Properties:
Sound
Berkey Pathé Color
Color
Berkey Pathé Color
Duration(in mins):
94
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At his funeral the corpse of silent film comedian Billy Bright recalls his early vaudeville career; a stormy marriage to starlet Mary Gibson; divorce; marriage in Mexico to a wanton alcoholic; a prolonged sojourn in Europe; rediscovery by Steve Allen; a late career as the star of television commercials; engagement to an adolescent fortune hunter; his collapse at the altar rail; and a final visit from his son, an effeminate fashion ... +


At his funeral the corpse of silent film comedian Billy Bright recalls his early vaudeville career; a stormy marriage to starlet Mary Gibson; divorce; marriage in Mexico to a wanton alcoholic; a prolonged sojourn in Europe; rediscovery by Steve Allen; a late career as the star of television commercials; engagement to an adolescent fortune hunter; his collapse at the altar rail; and a final visit from his son, an effeminate fashion designer. +

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.