Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys (1975)

PG | 111 mins | Comedy-drama | 5 November 1975

Director:

Herbert Ross

Writer:

Neil Simon

Producer:

Ray Stark

Cinematographer:

David M. Walsh

Editor:

John F. Burnett

Production Designer:

Albert Brenner

Production Company:

Rastar
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HISTORY

The film’s opening titles are superimposed over a montage of scenes from early sound films featuring Broadway and vaudeville stars of the 1920s. These clips include footage of the Palace Theater in New York ca. 1929, and several clips from The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (see entry) with scenes featuring announcement girls with signs introducing acts and other sequences featuring the stars Bessie Love, Charles King, Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, Gus Edwards, and the Albertina Rasch Dancers. There are also several clips from a Metro Movietone Revue short featuring master of ceremonies Harry Rose and performers Gus Van & Joe Schenck, Grace Rogers, the Reynolds Sisters dance duo, and Joseph Regan, as well as clips from several 1928--1929 Metro Movietone shorts including Fuzzy Knight and His Little Piano; The Five Locust Sisters Famed Miracle Makers of Harmony; Frances White; and The Mayor of Jim Town featuring Flournoy Miller & Aubrey Lyles. Actor Maurice Cass is also seen performing a stage illusion in a clip from the 1938 MGM short The Magician’s Daughter. The title sequence montage ends with footage from The Great Ziegfeld (1936, see entry) with actor Buddy Doyle impersonating Ziegfeld Follies star Eddie Cantor.
       Neil Simon’s stage play, The Sunshine Boys, officially opened 20 Dec 1972 at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City after two preview performances 18-19 Dec 1972. It moved to the Shubert Theatre on 30 Oct 1973 and finally to the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on 11 Feb 1974 before completing 538 Broadway performances on 21 Apr 1974.
       Records in AMPAS library ... More Less

The film’s opening titles are superimposed over a montage of scenes from early sound films featuring Broadway and vaudeville stars of the 1920s. These clips include footage of the Palace Theater in New York ca. 1929, and several clips from The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (see entry) with scenes featuring announcement girls with signs introducing acts and other sequences featuring the stars Bessie Love, Charles King, Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, Gus Edwards, and the Albertina Rasch Dancers. There are also several clips from a Metro Movietone Revue short featuring master of ceremonies Harry Rose and performers Gus Van & Joe Schenck, Grace Rogers, the Reynolds Sisters dance duo, and Joseph Regan, as well as clips from several 1928--1929 Metro Movietone shorts including Fuzzy Knight and His Little Piano; The Five Locust Sisters Famed Miracle Makers of Harmony; Frances White; and The Mayor of Jim Town featuring Flournoy Miller & Aubrey Lyles. Actor Maurice Cass is also seen performing a stage illusion in a clip from the 1938 MGM short The Magician’s Daughter. The title sequence montage ends with footage from The Great Ziegfeld (1936, see entry) with actor Buddy Doyle impersonating Ziegfeld Follies star Eddie Cantor.
       Neil Simon’s stage play, The Sunshine Boys, officially opened 20 Dec 1972 at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City after two preview performances 18-19 Dec 1972. It moved to the Shubert Theatre on 30 Oct 1973 and finally to the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on 11 Feb 1974 before completing 538 Broadway performances on 21 Apr 1974.
       Records in AMPAS library files indicate that Rastar Productions acquired screen rights to the play on 12 Feb 1973, and on 21 Mar 1973 HR and Var both reported that Ray Stark would produce a film version for Columbia Pictures with Neil Simon adapting his own play and Jack Albertson set to reprise his role as Willy Clark in the film. In a 28 Mar 1973 story Var also revealed that Simon had turned down an offer of $1 million plus a percentage of the profits for a screen adaptation that would have starred Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and instead opted for a no-cash-up-front deal with Stark that would pay him a royalty from "dollar one" of film rentals.
       The 16 May 1974 HR and DV noted the film was now set to be produced by MGM with shooting scheduled to begin early in 1975; however MGM did not formally acquire rights to the play from Rastar until 18 Oct 1974, according to AMPAS records. The 31 Jul 1974 DV stated that singer Steve Lawrence, actor Ted Bessell and comic David Steinberg were being tested for the role of agent “Ben Clark,” and that Jack Benny was set for the role of “Al Lewis.” With Jack Albertson now starring in the television series Chico and the Man (NBC, 13 Sep 1974—21 Jul 1978), both Milton Berle and Phil Silvers were tested for the part of “Willy Clark.” By 22 May 1974 Var reported rumors that Red Skelton would play Willy Clark. On 30 Sep 1974, HR noted that Walter Matthau would play opposite Benny.
       With the picture scheduled to begin shooting in early 1975, Benny’s death on 26 Dec 1974 started another flurry of casting rumors with Women’s Wear Daily stating that Art Carney and George Burns were being considered and that Red Skelton was again in contention for the role of Lewis. Finally on 13 Feb 1975 a brief announcement in HR noted that Burns would play the role.
       Although HR production charts reported that the first day of principal photography was 24 Feb 1975, a 26 Feb 1975 HR news item listed the starting date as two days later and added the MGM lot in Culver City as the location. It was reported that Burns had memorized all his lines by the start of production. This was necessary because, according to his longtime secretary Jack Langdon, Burns, who started working at the age of seven, never really learned to read or write with proficiency and hired people to read scripts out loud for him. According to an 18 Mar 1975 HR news item, the company shot the television special rehearsal scenes in the Hollywood Palace, the former Hollywood Playhouse located at 1735 North Vine Street, during the week of 10 Mar 1975, and resumed shooting at the studio on 18 Mar 1975, according to a 7 Apr 1975 HR news item. A scheduled twelve days of location shooting in New York City and New Jersey commenced on 7 Apr 1975. Among the Manhattan locations seen in the film are the exteriors of the Palace Theatre and Times Square, the Ansonia Hotel, the Friars’ Club, and the Gaiety Delicatessen. The Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ, also served as a location. According to AMPAS files, a completed answer print of the film was made by 24 Jul 1975.
       The film's fictional comedy team of Lewis and Clark was based on two real life theatrical comedy teams—Smith & Dale and Weber & Fields. The feud and estrangement is said to mirror the offstage lives of Weber & Fields; but the badinage between the characters with neither agreeing on who said what, or when or where, was very much like the conversations Joe Smith and Charlie Dale engaged in according to theater historian Miles Kreuger, who knew both men.
       The film was the 1975 Christmas season attraction at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and went on to be nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Walter Matthau); Actor in a Supporting Role (George Burns); Art Direction; and Writing (Screenplay Adapted from Other Material). Only George Burns won. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
16 May 1974.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1974.
---
Daily Variety
21 Mar 1975.
---
Daily Variety
29 Oct 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 May 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Feb 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Feb 1975
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Mar 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Apr 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 May 1975
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Oct 1975.
---
New York Times
7 Nov 1975
p. 28.
Variety
21 Mar 1973.
---
Variety
28 Mar 1973.
---
Variety
22 May 1974.
---
Variety
29 Oct 1975
p. 16.
Women's Wear Daily
2 Jan 1975.
---
Women's Wear Daily
3 Apr 1975.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Ray Stark Production
A Herbert Ross Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost
Men's cost
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Asst to Mr. Ross
Scr supv
Unit pub
Dial coach
Asst to the prod
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon (New York, 20 Dec 1972).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Sunshine Boys
Release Date:
5 November 1975
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 5 November 1975
Los Angeles opening: 16 December 1975
Production Date:
began late February 1975
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Copyright Date:
6 November 1975
Copyright Number:
LP45643
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Metrocolor
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
111
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24243
SYNOPSIS

Former vaudeville and burlesque comic Willy Clark is late for a television commercial audition and his agent and nephew, Ben Clark, frets as he attempts to keep his uncle’s try-out from being cancelled. When he finally arrives, Ben pleads with the ad agency director to see Willy; but the cantankerous old performer is so unfocused and disagreeable that he ruins any chance he might have had to land the job. Later, at Willy’s apartment, Ben gets the blame for being unable to find work for his uncle. However, Ben tells Willy of an offer to do a spot on a TV special about the history of comedy. The network wants Willy to re-team with his former stage partner Al Lewis and perform their trademark "Doctor Routine." Willy refuses, claiming he feels betrayed by Lewis, who decided to retire eleven years before. After delicate negotiations in which Ben visits Al in the New Jersey suburbs, where he now lives with his daughter’s family, he persuades Willy to meet Al, discuss their differences, and rehearse the routine. The meeting is a disaster, and Al annoys Willy with his old habits. Ben eventually negotiates a détente so the former partners will not have to speak with each other: simply show up for one technical rehearsal on the day of taping and then do the show. The technical rehearsal goes no better than the earlier confrontation in Willy’s apartment, and the bewildered director tries to follow their act in his written script as the old comics rehash their long-standing disagreements between lines. Al walks out and, in a dither, Willy follows screaming. The strain is ultimately too ... +


Former vaudeville and burlesque comic Willy Clark is late for a television commercial audition and his agent and nephew, Ben Clark, frets as he attempts to keep his uncle’s try-out from being cancelled. When he finally arrives, Ben pleads with the ad agency director to see Willy; but the cantankerous old performer is so unfocused and disagreeable that he ruins any chance he might have had to land the job. Later, at Willy’s apartment, Ben gets the blame for being unable to find work for his uncle. However, Ben tells Willy of an offer to do a spot on a TV special about the history of comedy. The network wants Willy to re-team with his former stage partner Al Lewis and perform their trademark "Doctor Routine." Willy refuses, claiming he feels betrayed by Lewis, who decided to retire eleven years before. After delicate negotiations in which Ben visits Al in the New Jersey suburbs, where he now lives with his daughter’s family, he persuades Willy to meet Al, discuss their differences, and rehearse the routine. The meeting is a disaster, and Al annoys Willy with his old habits. Ben eventually negotiates a détente so the former partners will not have to speak with each other: simply show up for one technical rehearsal on the day of taping and then do the show. The technical rehearsal goes no better than the earlier confrontation in Willy’s apartment, and the bewildered director tries to follow their act in his written script as the old comics rehash their long-standing disagreements between lines. Al walks out and, in a dither, Willy follows screaming. The strain is ultimately too much, and Willy suffers a heart attack. Even though Willy is allowed no visitors, Al comes to the hospital to stand vigil. Later, with Willy no longer able to look after himself in his New York apartment, Ben and his wife visit the Actors Fund Home in New Jersey and arrange for Willy to move there. When Ben comes to tell Willy about the plan, Willy finally lets down his guard enough to express his fear that Ben will no longer make his regular Wednesday visits when he is all the way out in New Jersey. Ben assures his uncle that he will still come by, and that Willy will be surrounded by friends and be able to participate with his fellow show business retirees in putting on shows for the residents. As Ben leaves, Al shows up for a visit, and tells Willy that his daughter is going to be having another baby and the family will need the extra room where he has been living, so he has decided to move into the Actors Fund Home. Seemingly joined at the hip for eternity, the long-standing feud will continue. +

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

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