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10 Rich Facts About Arthur

Dudley Moore played the titular role in Arthur (1981), Steve Gordon's classic comedy, with Liza Minnelli portraying waitress Linda Marolla and Sir John Gielgud in an Oscar-winning performance as Arthur's dryly sarcastic servant, Hobson. In the film, Arthur Bach—a wealthy, witty alcoholic—falls for Linda just as he is about to get married to a wealthy heiress, who he is only marrying to appease his grandmother and to keep his inheritance. To celebrate the film's 35th anniversary, here are 10 rich facts about Arthur.

1. JAMES CAAN, AL PACINO, JOHN TRAVOLTA, AND JOHN BELUSHI TURNED DOWN THE LEAD.

Neither James Caan nor Al Pacino was interested in the role. John Travolta said no, too. John Belushi did not want to be typecast. After 18 months, Paramount dropped the project. After Orion Pictures came aboard, Dudley Moore won the lead.

2. DEBRA WINGER TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF LINDA.

Like her Urban Cowboy (1980) co-star, Debra Winger said no to the film.

3. DUDLEY MOORE CONVINCED THE DIRECTOR TO CONSIDER SIR JOHN GIELGUD.

For the role of Arthur's valet, Hobson, writer/director Steve Gordon considered Sir Alec Guinness and David Niven. Then Gordon heard Sir John Gielgud's name from his star. "I told Steve Gordon [that Gielgud] was wonderful at comedy, having seen him in English plays," Moore explained. "It was terrific to play off him because he has worked so much in the theater." Despite not finding any film of Gielgud being funny, Gordon and legendary producer Charles H. Joffe (Annie Hall, Manhattan) made the actor an offer. He turned it down. "I thought it was rather smutty and a vulgar little film, so I refused it," Gielgud said. "But each time they asked me they doubled my salary, so naturally I became reconciled to do it."

4. GIELGUD DIDN'T KNOW IF HE WAS DOING A GOOD JOB.

Joffe later said the actor "never really understood the jokes he was giving." According to Minnelli, Gielgud kept turning to her and Moore asking if what he just said was funny.

After the film came out, he wrote to journalist George Pitcher, explaining that he was "very bucked" at the success of Arthur. "I thought Liza so very good, and underestimated by the critics," Gielgud added. "Dudley screams too much at first, but gets better all through and is very charming and co-operative in the scenes with me. We also got on so wonderfully well together, despite that appalling heat."

5. GORDON AND MOORE ARGUED OVER ARTHUR'S ACCENT.

"I explained to the director I couldn't possibly do it as an American since I spent half the time trying to get my vowels right," Moore reasoned. The two continued the discussion of whether Moore should use an American accent even after filming had started, but Moore won out.

6. GETTING THE ICONIC ARTHUR CACKLE WASN'T EASY.

"I just loved that man, Arthur," Moore said. "Those scenes in the beginning of me laughing were something else to do. Getting the laughter out of myself was a problem."

After shooting the scene where Arthur gets beaten up by his would-be father-in-law, he was still wearing his tattered costume and bloody makeup when he turned to his then-girlfriend Susan Anton (who was nearly 8.5 inches taller than him) in a Waldorf-Astoria elevator and said, "Susan, I told you I'd be home, why wouldn't you believe me?" The other elevator passengers were aghast.

7. THERE WAS A LOT OF FUN AND CHAOS ON SET.

Moore kept cracking up the cast and crew, so much so that 27 takes were needed to get one scene filmed at one point. Also, shooting in New York City in the summer of 1980 drew thousands of onlookers curious about Liza Minnelli's new project. One of the older onlookers confused Minnelli for her mother, Judy Garland.

In Minnelli's dressing room, Moore—an accomplished pianist—would play her piano. Sometimes Minnelli would sing along. Other times, Jill Eikenberry (who portrayed Arthur's fiancée, Susan Johnson) played.

8. FOUR DIFFERENT ENDINGS WERE SHOT.

Steve Gordon still hadn't figured out which ending to use during the editing stage. A rough cut, which Moore objected to, gave more of a focus on Arthur and Hobson's relationship than Arthur and Linda's.

9. "ARTHUR'S THEME (BEST THAT YOU CAN DO)" WAS WRITTEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

The hit song—which won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1982—was composed by Christopher Cross, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, and Peter Allen (Minnelli's ex-husband). The standout lyric, "When you get caught between the moon and New York City" came from an unpublished song written years earlier by Allen.

Cross had originally been asked by the studio to score the film, but Gordon opted for the more experienced Bacharach instead. Cross was still invited to work on the theme to the movie. Cross went over to Bacharach's Beverly Hills abode at midnight, and the two finished the tune by five in the morning. "I think Burt, out of all four of us that wrote it, was certainly the most responsible for the track," Cross claimed. "Peter and Carole came up with the words, Burt and I put the music together."

10. THE STUDIO COULDN'T FIGURE OUT HOW TO PROMOTE THE MOVIE.

Joffe said that he and Gordon "had no feel where the audience was. If you had called me four weeks before Arthur opened and asked me who was going to go see the film, I couldn't have answered." They ended up abandoning six different ad campaigns before settling on one with a tipsy Moore, martini in hand, behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce.

Positive word of mouth was credited for the movie doing better in its third week than in its second and ultimately making $95.4 million domestically, making it the highest grossing comedy of 1981.

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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