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Doctor Dolittle (1967) Poster

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"The Reluctant Vegetarian" was one of the hardest scenes to film, mainly because of the number of animals that had to sit still for a lengthy period. The cast had hours of rehearsal and preparation before filming started. The first take went very well, until Sir Rex Harrison stopped singing. Director Richard Fleischer asked him why, and Harrison said he heard him yell "Cut!" Fleischer denied it, and they were starting to argue about it when both heard a voice yell "Cut!" The guilty party turned out to be Polynesia the Parrot. Harrison said "That's the first time I've ever been directed by a parrot. But she may be right. I probably can do it better."
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This movie's massive critical and commercial failure effectively ended Sir Rex Harrison's career as a leading man on-screen. He continued to act regularly on stage.
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This movie was part of Twentieth Century Fox's attempt to duplicate the success of The Sound of Music (1965) by producing three expensive, large-scale musicals over three years. This movie, Star! (1968), and Hello, Dolly! (1969) were all released amidst massive publicity. All lost huge amounts of money. Several top studio executives lost their jobs, and the studio was in such dire financial straits that it only produced one movie in 1970. The studio finally recouped its losses in 1973, when The Sound of Music (1965) was re-released to theaters.
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This movie set was no picnic. One of the fawns ate a quart of paint during a scene break, and had to have her stomach pumped. Gub-Gub the Pig had to be replaced several times during filming, because piglets grow very fast. Squirrels ate through several key pieces of scenery, requiring thousands of dollars in repairs. When Sir Rex Harrison sang in the field of sheep, he had to be sprayed down repeatedly for flies. The sheep urinated on him, forcing multiple retakes. One of the goats broke loose during a scene and ate Director Richard Fleischer's script. The first several weeks of filming in Castle Combe were disrupted by torrential downpours, after the producers ignored detailed climate reports about the area's weather patterns. A disgruntled resident tried to blow up the set with a homemade bomb.
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Sir Rex Harrison behaved so badly on-set that he was nicknamed "Tyrannosaurus Rex".
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The younger cast members grew to loathe Rex Harrison for his abuse. They retaliated by antagonizing him.
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No one expected that shooting a scene with ducks swimming in a pond would be difficult. However, when the ducks were placed into the water, they sank. It was the wrong time of year; the ducks had lost their water-repellent feathers and couldn't swim.
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The first sneak preview, at the Mann Theatre in Minneapolis in September 1967, was a failure. The audience was mostly adults, who were not the primary target audience. The general audience response was muted during the screening, and comment cards rated it poorly, with frequent complaints about the movie's length. A shorter edit previewed in San Francisco was no more successful. An even shorter edit previewed in San Jose got a good enough reception to be approved as the final cut.
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There was a huge outcry when the movie was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar despite having received almost universally terrible reviews. According to the 1994 book "Behind the Oscar" by Anthony Holden, this is because Twentieth Century Fox mounted an unparalleled nomination campaign in which Academy members were wined and dined. As a result, this movie was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture.
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To influence the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members at Oscar nomination time in 1968, Twentieth Century Fox hosted several lavish dinners for Academy members, promoting the under-performing movie as a potential nominee. The strategy worked, netting the movie seven nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Original Song win for "Talk to the Animals". Similar campaigns were launched for the studio's other musical failures, Star! (1968) and Hello, Dolly! (1969), with similar results.
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Angered by the filmmakers' attempts to enlarge a pond in Castle Combe, Wiltshire, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a member of 22nd Regiment, the S.A.S., tried to blow up the dam, using the Army's explosives. He was arrested, dismissed from the regiment, and served out the rest of his military career in the Royal Scots Greys.
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The producers felt 58-year-old Rex Harrison was too old to play Dr. Dolittle, but hoped his name would help re-create the success of My Fair Lady (1964).
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The scene in which Dr. Dolittle's companions leave the island on the Great Pink Sea Snail enraged the locals of Marigot Bay, whose children had just endured a food poisoning epidemic caused by freshwater snails. They pelted the prop snail with stones.
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At 32 percent "fresh", this is the movie with the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
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One scene required a squirrel to stay still next to Polynesia the Parrot for a few seconds, long enough for Dr. Dolittle to sing a few lines to it. After tying the squirrel's paws to a perch with wire didn't work, one producer went looking for a vet to help him sedate the creature for the afternoon shoot. Using a fountain pen, they fed the squirrel drops of gin until it was sufficiently drunk. Sir Rex Harrison later wrote: "They got a few seconds of the squirrel, nodding and swaying . . . before it passed out cold."
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Samantha Eggar said of Sir Rex Harrison, "Yes, he was unkind and vitriolic and very mean-spirited, but he was also very funny, until, of course, he turned on me, too."
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The Great Pink Sea Snail was an eight-ton machine that cost more than sixty-five thousand dollars.
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This movie had one of the biggest merchandising tie-in campaigns in Hollywood history. Merchandise included puzzles, a reprint of the original book series by Dell Publishing, children's toys (including talking Pushmi-Pullyu and Sir Rex Harrison dolls from Mattel), school supplies, a line of pet foods, and small toy figures in each package of "Shake-a-Pudding". Along with the obligatory soundtrack album, several major artists recorded "Talk to the Animals" and other songs from the movie. Anthony Newley recorded an album of nothing but "Dolittle" songs for RCA Victor. Sammy Davis, Jr. and Bobby Darin also released all-"Dolittle" albums, along with instrumental albums from jazz musicians Joe Bushkin and Gordon Beck. Most of the merchandise sold poorly. Ten years later, George Lucas easily got the merchandising rights for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) and profited spectacularly from it.
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Sir Richard Attenborough got his role as a last-minute replacement.
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Sir Rex Harrison deliberately ruined filming of a beach scene in which he was not involved by sailing his yacht into the shot and refusing to move.
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"Talk to the Animals" is arguably the most well-known song in the movie, and won an Oscar. No one on the production liked it. Sir Rex Harrison said "A humorous song is meant to be funny. This isn't funny."
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This movie also faced strong competition from The Jungle Book (1967), which opened the same week to considerable critical and audience acclaim.
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Nine separate versions of the soundtrack were commissioned in several languages, with over one million copies pressed total. Almost none of them sold. To this day, the soundtrack turns up in many thrift stores and ninety-nine-cent bins.
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The hundreds of animals trained in California for the movie couldn't be used for location shooting at Castle Combe because of British animal quarantine laws. Another set of animals had to be trained, at great expense.
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Samantha Eggar's singing was dubbed by Diana Lee.
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Sir Rex Harrison was under contract to play the title character. After the original scriptwriter and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner left, Harrison tried to back out. Christopher Plummer was hired as a replacement. When the studio successfully lured Harrison back, it paid Plummer his entire agreed-upon fee of three hundred thousand dollars to sit out the production. Harrison was wary of Leslie Bricusse writing the score, since he was an unknown quantity to him. On his own, he had English songwriters Donald Swann and Michael Flanders try their hand at songs for the movie. Swann and Flanders signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox in February 1966, and completed at least four songs ("Animalitarians", "I Won't Be King", "A Total Vegetarian", and "Goodbye to Sophie"), which Harrison recorded as demos before he heard and approved the Bricusse score.
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Two songs were originally written for the movie, and filmed, but didn't make the final cut: "Where Are the Words?," sung by Anthony Newley, and "Something In Your Smile," sung by Sir Rex Harrison. Both appeared on the soundtrack LP and CD, and the latter is played under the movie's opening titles.
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In the original cut of the movie, Dr. Dolittle (Sir Rex Harrison) and Emma Fairfax (Samantha Eggar) eventually begin a relationship. He sang "Where Are the Words?" when he realized he was falling in love with her. In a revised version, Matthew Mugg (Anthony Newley) falls for Emma, and his recording of the song is featured on the soundtrack album. Both versions were filmed and both actors recorded their respective versions, but the footage for both, as well as the vocal track by Sir Rex Harrison, have been lost. Dolittle sings "Something In Your Smile" in both scenarios when he realizes he has fallen for Emma. Harrison's vocals for the song survive, but the footage does not.
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A wet summer in St. Lucia meant swarms of insects, and cast and crew got bites that often became infected. Anthony Newley and William Dix suffered from severe cases of the flu.
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Following the troubled production of this movie, Arthur P. Jacobs got Twentieth Century Fox to greenlight Planet of the Apes (1968), promising not to exceed a five million dollar budget.
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Helen Winston, a producer involved early in the movie's development, sued Twentieth Century Fox for four and a half million dollars just prior to release. She claimed that the plot point about animals threatening to go on strike on Dolittle's behalf was lifted from her rejected screenplay. Leslie Bricusse, who had read Winston's script, assumed it was from the books. Because the producers only had rights to the content of the original books, they had no legal defense, and were forced to settle out of court. The animal strike is mentioned in the movie, but was never filmed.
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Anthony Newley was incensed by comments made by Sir Rex Harrison that he deemed anti-Semitic. Harrison was apparently jealous of his Jewish co-star's participation, demanded Newley's role be reduced, and disrupted scenes featuring him.
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Producer Arthur P. Jacobs thought he could interest Sidney Poitier in the role of Bumpo, even hiring Broadway actor Gilbert Price to provide Poitier's singing voice. Poitier turned the part down, explaining, "I'm an actor, not an entertainer." Sammy Davis, Jr. was briefly considered, but Sir Rex Harrison refused to work with an "entertainer" (someone who could sing better than him). The character was ultimately removed from the movie and replaced with William Shakespeare X. Ironically, Davis, who had been bitterly disappointed by his loss of the role, had a hit recording of "Talk to the Animals".
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In his 1993 autobiography, "Just Tell Me When to Cry", Director Richard Fleischer devoted an entire chapter to his horrible experiences trying to get this movie cast, made, and edited. He lays much of the blame at the feet of Twentieth Century Fox executives, who insisted on casting Sir Rex Harrison in the title role, and on Harrison, who dithered back-and-forth for a year about accepting the part and then, in Fleischer's estimation, failed to fully commit once he signed for the movie.
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The movie's U.S. premiere, on December 19, 1967, at the Loew's State Theater in New York City, was a benefit for Project H.O.P.E. The festivities were the subject of an hour-long television show on WPIX hosted by Barry Gray. The Chicago premiere was at the Michael Todd Theater, on December 20, 1967. The Hollywood opening the following day, at the Paramount Theater, was a benefit for the Hollywood and Television Relief Fund. Joey Bishop taped his ABC talk show there. Sophie the seal wore a diamond necklace, Jip the dog wore a jewelled collar, Gub-Gub the pig wore a sequined harness, and Chee-Chee the chimp wore white tie, tails, and top hat.
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Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, and David Wayne were considered for Matthew Mugg. Arthur P. Jacobs wanted someone younger, and settled on Leslie Bricusse's creative partner, Anthony Newley.
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The movie's appeal as family fare was undermined when the British press drew attention to racist content in the books, prompting demands to have them removed from public schools.
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Hugh Griffith was seriously considered for the role of Albert Blossom. The production team didn't hire him because of his drinking problem.
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Geoffrey Holder (William Shakespeare X) received racist abuse from Rex Harrison's entourage.
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The upkeep for the featured creatures averaged seven hundred fifty dollars per week.
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Sir Rex Harrison suggested his friend Dame Maggie Smith for the role of Emma Fairfax. Dame Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, and Hayley Mills had been on the studio's wish list.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Song, Best Original Music Score, and Best Special Visual Effects.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year not to be nominated for Best Actor, or in any of the lead acting categories, or in any acting category.
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Following the success of My Fair Lady (1964), Twentieth Century Fox originally intended for this movie to reunite Sir Rex Harrison, Alan Jay Lerner, and Frederick Loewe. Loewe had retired from writing musicals. Alan Jay Lerner was originally hired to write the script, but Arthur P. Jacobs fired him for procrastination.
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The animals frequently bit Sir Rex Harrison and several members of the crew.
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Over one thousand two hundred live animals were used in the movie, including dogs, pigs, birds, and giraffes. A giraffe died on-set before the insurance had gone into effect.
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Leslie Bricusse was determined to make a good impression with his first screenplay after Alan Jay Lerner was fired for procrastination. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs was delighted to find that Bricusse took just two months to provide a full treatment, complete with song ideas, and tempered the racist content of the books in a way that met with the Lofting family's approval.
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This movie took over four years to complete.
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The giraffe Sir Rex Harrison rode was named Twigga. Exotic animal trainer Ralph Helfer saddle-broke it to ride.
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John Huston was considered as director, but Producer Arthur P. Jacobs nixed the idea. Vincente Minnelli and William Wyler were also considered. Minnelli was felt to be too "old-fashioned". Wyler's reputation for shooting far too many takes of a scene eliminated them from the running.
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As set decorator Stuart A. Reiss recalled in the book "Pictures at a Revolution", the California sets had to be built on a slant so they could drain in case the animals made a mess. They also had laborers on standby with brooms. All of the furniture had to be hosed down and washed every night. There had to be duplicates of everything, even the walls, in case a big animal backed up into it or kicked it. The sets stank due to animal waste and the gallons of ammonia used to clean it. The birds were tethered to railings, but a few of them escaped and managed to get caught in the netting on the ceiling of the soundstages.
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Emma Fairfax and General Bellowes were created for this movie. They didn't appear in any of the books.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to not be nominated for Best Director.
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This movie was made in an era when major Hollywood studios annually "lobbied" their thousands of employees to cast their Oscar ballots for each year's most expensive movie as Best Picture, the only Academy Award for which every Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences member is allowed to vote This was Twentieth Century Fox's biggest budget flop that year, and thus got nominated in the top category while failing to be cited for its acting, writing, or direction.
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Sir Rex Harrison demanded contradictory re-writes from Leslie Bricusse, made pointless explorations for new shooting locations and other songwriters (most notably, he looked into replacing Bricusse with Michael Flanders and Donald Swann), and wanted to record his songs live, as opposed to standard sound recording in studio.
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Filming in Castle Combe proved to be problematic. The producers chose to ignore reports of the area's rainy summers, except when the crew tried to film scenes set on rainy days. The weather continually interfered with shooting and caused health problems for the animals. Some of the producers' decisions, such as removing television antennas from personal residences in town, irritated the locals.
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Along with Camelot (1967), released two months earlier, this movie is often credited with killing the family musical.
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This movie was photographed in 70mm Todd-AO.
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Producer Arthur P. Jacobs had a heart attack during production.
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Producer Arthur P. Jacobs tried to get The Sherman Brothers to write songs for the movie, but they were tied to Walt Disney.
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Sir Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Jack Lemmon, and Sir Peter Ustinov were considered for the lead role.
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Peter Bull was considered for the role of circus owner Albert Blossom. Sir Richard Attenborough was cast after concerns arose about Bull's drinking.
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Peter O'Toole expressed an interest in the lead role, but was turned down.
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This movie had its official Royal World Charity Premiere on December 12, 1967, at the Odeon Marble Arch in London, England, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. The U.S. premiere was one week later.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year not to be nominated in any of the writing categories.
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Alexander Courage who conducted the orchestra, is famous for composing the music.for the original "Stat Trek" series. Samantha Eggar played "Marie Picard," on the Star Trek:The Next Generation episode "Family."
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