In this weeks episode of The Leslie Nielsen Spoofs Podcast, Cory and Nathan hope for a smooth flight as they discuss “Flying High”, also known as “Airplane!”
Our Favourite Trivia:
The film cost $3.5 million and only took 34 days to make.
Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker (collectively known as Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, or ZAZ), wrote Airplane! while they were performing with the Kentucky Fried Theatre, a small theatre they had founded in 1971.
The three directors had a full-on fight on their hands with the Directors’ Guild, which initially refused to allow for a three-director credit.
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker chose actors such as Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film, these actors had not done comedy, so their “straight-arrow” personas and line delivery made the satire in the movie all the more poignant and funny. Bridges was initially reluctant to take his role in the movie, but his sons persuaded him to do it.
The doctor role was Leslie Nielsen’s first comedic part. He later said he was delighted to get the offer, fearing that he was getting too old for anything but “elderly grandfather” parts. The studio actually wanted to cast Dom DeLuise as the doctor, but directors Jerry Zucker, David Zucker and Jim Abrahams prevailed. It led to Nielsen gaining a whole new career in wacky comedies, particularly other Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker productions.
The film is mostly a parody of Zero Hour! (1957), a film that had a main character named Ted Stryker and such famous “not meant to be funny” lines like “We have to find someone who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner.”
For the argument between announcers concerning the white and red zones at the airport, the producers hired the same voice artists who had made the real-world announcements at Los Angeles International Airport. At the real airport, the white zone is for loading and unloading of passengers only, and there’s no stopping in the red zone (except for transit buses). They were also married to each other in real life.
When Captain Oveur asks the young boy if he’d ever seen the inside of a cockpit before, it’s not the original line which was ultimately deemed to be too risqué. (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker originally wanted the line to be “Have you ever seen a grown man’s cock?”)
Most of the jive talk between the two black passengers was improvised by the actors, Al White and Norman Alexander Gibbs, as the ZAZ team weren’t sufficiently “conversant” in black street language. In a bonus vignette for the “Don’t Call Me Shirley” edition of the DVD, White and Gibbs explain how they came up with the dialect for the ZAZ team. Whenever the participants speak in regular English, the scene is subtitled in jive.
In a 2008 interview on the Today Show, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told the story of being on a European flight and asked to sit in an empty seat in the cockpit during takeoff so the crew could say they flew with Roger Murdoch.
This was Ethel Merman’s final film before her death on February 15, 1984 at the age of 76.
The picture of the boy in the spinning newspaper that has the headline, “Boy Trapped In Refrigerator Eats Own Foot”, is Billy Koch, the grandson of producer Howard W. Koch. His grandfather called him up one day and asked him for a photo of him, so Billy grabbed his second grade school photo. It was only after the film came out that he found out why his grandfather wanted the photo.
The directing trio passed on the opportunity of making Flying High II: The Sequel (1982) as they felt that they’d exhausted every airport gag with this film.
Co-writer/director David Zucker said that years after the movie’s release, Woody Allen came up to him at a New York Knicks game and told Zucker how much he loved the movie. Zucker said that, since he and the movie’s other writer-directors were heavily influenced by Allen’s early comedies, Zucker was very touched.
What’s Up Next?:
Next week we’ll be discussing the Exorcist Spoof “Repossessed”
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