Monday, March 23, 2009

The Phantom Tollbooth: MGM (1970): Irv Spector (Uncredited)

In the personal collection of my father's leftovers, The Phantom Tollbooth, ironically, takes up more volume than practically anything else. Here's the most interesting piece I own: the early meeting minutes of the minds:

It's tough to say why a film falls flat. Sure, it's a simple exercise many of us play, to pick at a film after the fact. But who knows, decades later, why strong veteran talent can't bring a film up to, at the least, average level? Certainly, no one starts out to make a dull flick. My dad is uncredited on Phantom; not sure why, but it happens. Maybe Jones had a crystal ball and was doing my dad a favor. And now I’m undoing that favor. Ain’t it just like a son to revisit the sins of the father?

I got hundreds of pages just like the ones above.

However, here's how my dad found out about the non-credit: My dad, my good schoolfriend Danny (whose favorite book was The Phantom Tollbooth) and myself, went to see a screening of the film, probably at the Screenwriters Guild, where I saw a lot of screenings in the sixties. The lights go out, the opening credits roll, and my father's name is not to be found. We sat through the movie, drove Danny home, and then my father turned red and got real empahsize, I mean, REAL angry. This was one of maybe a half-dozen times in his life I have ever seen him like that -- where you hold your anger inside for a few hours, then turn lava red, and finally go off like a volcano. He said he would have walked out at the beginning were if not for us kids being there.
Phantom being, I believe, MGM Animation's final release before their demise, I think my father must have been on to another studio by the time of its release, and so had no idea. The minutes are from 1966 but the film wasn't released until 1970. I think it was finished in 1968 and held back.
Here are a few pages of my father's treatment. And I got a lot more just like them. My own feeling about the film is that episodic allegory that is too literal -- therefore defeating the purpose of allegory in the first one requries allegory spelt out for them -- does not make for great film:

I happened to watch Phantom on TCM last Tuesday (I lasted about an hour and then went to bed.) On the above page, you can see my dad used Danny's name -- later changed to "Ralph" by Chuck's request -- because, in my father's words, Chuck thought names like "Ralph" were funnier. I can't argue with that. It's true. My name, "Paulie" was completely omitted from the final script, which I had been already made aware of at the time it happened. No big deal to me. By the way, no one ever called me "Paulie" in my youth, until 25 years later, when I became a Made Man in Little Italy. However, the dialogue about me "taking his drum lesson" was absolutely true at that time.

I'm deliberating whether or not to post pictures here, as all I have are a mess of faded old photocopies...okay then, I hear ya, hold on, I'll scan them. I doubt they're my father's. And, if not Chuck's, then Tony Rivera would be my guess.

So let's forget Phantom. Here's an anecdote even more interesting about another time when my father blew his stack. You gotta love stack blowing -- the true essence of a person: Earlier in the 1960s, Ed Graham (Linus) was over at our apartment. Me? I was still in elementary school at that point. Ed was, chronologically, a grown man. I was chatting in our living room along with the rest of the adults. I told Ed that I was one of the fastest runners in my school. Ed challenged me to a race, right there, on the sidewalks of Magnolia Blvd. I was game. We go downstairs. We race. He beats me. I figured he would too. We go back upstairs. My dad asks who won? I say Ed. Quiet from my dad. Ed and his wife leave about an hour later. My dad blows his stack! My dad yells something to the effect of, "Beating a kid! He always has to be so damn competitive!" Although I'm using damn as a euphemism.

1 comment:

Ger Apeldoorn said...

The leaving off or demoting of credits is something that's still going on. I have heard that one studio plays down credits of artists that have moved on to another studio in favor of those that stay with them.