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Still a 'Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World'?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Dec. 3, 2002 at 5:07 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The 40th anniversary of the late Stanley Kramer's 1963 comedy extravaganza "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" doesn't technically occur until next year, but the film is getting a special anniversary screening in Hollywood Wednesday.

The movie is legendary for its casting. Producer-director Kramer -- with help from longtime Hollywood casting director Lynn Stalmaster -- brought together a "murderer's row" of great comedians for the sprawling story of unrestrained greed.

With Spencer Tracey as a detective keeping watch on a collection of characters intent on sacrificing human decency in a frantic race to be first to find a hidden treasure, the movie featured performances by legendary comics including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jimmy Durante, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Joe E. Brown, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, Carl Reiner, Arnold Stang and The Three Stooges -- with uncredited cameos by Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis and Doodles Weaver.

The original release, with a four-hour running time and an intermission, was the opening attraction at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome in 1963. The print that the American Cinematheque will screen Wednesday is a trimmer two hours, 41 minutes.

The event will feature appearances by many of the movie's surviving stars -- including Caesar, Knotts, Lewis, Rooney and Winters, as well as Edie Adams, Peter Falk and Madlyn Rhue, who were also part of the movie's massive cast.

The cast and crew also will present a posthumous award to Kramer, with the filmmaker's widow Karen Sharpe Kramer picking up the honor on her late husband's behalf. Stanley Kramer died of pneumonia in 2001 at 88.

Karen Sharpe Kramer told UPI that her husband -- best known for serious pictures such as "Judgment at Nuremberg," "The Defiant Ones" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" -- decided to make "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" after a critic suggested that he was not capable of making a successful comedy.

"He loved a challenge of proving you wrong," she said, "and he loved the element of surprise, so he set out to make the comedy of all comedies."

Working from a screenplay by Tania Rose and William Rose, Stanley Kramer assembled a cast that nearly everyone in Hollywood thought impossible to arrange.

"He called every comedian personally," said Karen Sharpe Kramer.

Stalmaster said the hardest part of casting the movie was coordinating the schedules of all involved.

"You couldn't just say, 'Come and do a couple of days,'" Stalmaster told the Los Angeles Times. "Most of my efforts were, as always, before the film started. But then my office and I continually had to be checking schedule changes and weather because there was so much exterior (shooting). It was a continual process to keep track of where this enormous ensemble was and what they were doing."

The movie was Winters' screen debut. He told the Times Stanley Kramer called him and told him some of the names who would be involved, before asking if Winters would like to be involved.

"'Spencer Tracy is in it; Dick Shawn, and he went on and on," said Winters. "I said, 'Oh, my God.' He said you would have one of the leads and you'd be on it for six months. You can talk to your agent to see if you'd like to do it. I said, 'Think I would like to do it? I already have my bathrobe off and I am ready to come tomorrow.'"

With so many giants in the field of film comedy involved in the project, it's tempting to suppose that there were some clashes of ego, but Winters said they all got along well.

"I think we were in awe of each other," he said. "Each guy was a giant without getting in each other's way. We were just a bunch of giants thrown together, and it was one of the few times I couldn't wait to get to work because we had so many laughs off camera."

Karen Sharpe Kramer said her husband also broke cinematic ground with the project, presenting it in the then-new process of Cinerama, and keeping the show going during the intermission with an interactive feature -- the playing of scripted police radio transmissions over speakers located throughout the theater.

"There were speakers in the lobbies, the bathrooms, outside the theater," said Karen Sharpe Kramer.

She said "Mad World" was also the first movie to use animation to show the credits, a technique that became widely used in Hollywood -- perhaps most notably in Blake Edwards' "Pink Panther" movies.

The screening is sponsored by American Cinematique, MGM/UA and Turner Classic Movies. Karen Sharpe Kramer said she is hoping eventually to re-release the movie in Cinerama.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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