Inflatable pilots, inappropriate jokes and ‘jive talk’: the madcap making of Airplane! –

After completing the script in a bungalow in Santa Monica, the trio became concerned that they were stretching the concept of parody beyondlegal defence. After consulting an attorney, they cleared themselves by buying the rights to the original movie, for $2,500 (1,000). Nearly all the major studios gave their zany comedy a peremptory rejection.

But their luck changed when Paramount president Michael Eisner chatted to his friend Susan Baerwald, ascript-reader. She told him that the bosses at United Artists had passed on a script I thought was really, really funny. A comedy on an airplane? Thats a good idea, replied Eisner, who arranged to meet them the following week. And thats how we ended up at Paramount, David Zucker later told AV Club.

The trio wanted the movie to be shot in black-and-white, and set on a propeller plane, but Eisner insisted it had to be filmed in colour and staged on a jet plane, so modern viewers would identify with the passengers. He did bow to their inspired decision to cast serious, straight actors to deliver deadpan lines, instead of hiring comedy actors such as Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, which had been whatEisners fellow executives at Paramount wanted. We were doing a comedy without comedians. It was a radical concept, said David Zucker. I think the studio most likely green-lit it thinking this was Animal House on an airplane, and it turned out to be totally different from what they imagined.

The key role of Dr. Rumack was rejected by Dom DeLuise, Christopher Lee and Jack Webb. Horror star Lee, a former host of Saturday Night Live, later admitted turning down the part was the greatest regret of his career. When the ZAZ trio suggested Leslie Nielsen, they were greeted with exasperation. It was summer 1979, a full three weeks before the start of shooting, and our casting director had finally had enough. Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves and now Lesliewho? Zucker recalled in 2010.

Nielsen, the son of a Royal Canadian mounted police officer, was 54 at the time. He had worked on hundreds of stage and television productions. I played a lot of leaders, autocratic sorts. Perhaps it was my Canadian accent, he joked. As well as touring a one-man show on the life of Clarence Darrow, the lawyer who famously defended the right to teach evolution in public school, Nielsen had played the captain of the doomed ocean liner in the 1972 disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure. He feared that his future would be little more than castings for elderly grandfather parts.

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Inflatable pilots, inappropriate jokes and 'jive talk': the madcap making of Airplane! -

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