“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”

Poster for "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World"

Today, a celebration of one of my favorite movies, Stanley Kramer’s three-hour-plus all star greed satire It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). As a child, this movie held many beguiling mysteries for me. First, it’s title, which was so long it seemed more like an advertising tagline than the movie title. If so, what was the title? Second, because the poster (which was also used for TV Guide listings back in the day) was drawn by Jack Davis, that fact, combined with the title, suggested a relationship with Mad Magazine (but it didn’t have one). And lastly, all of those names and cameos by comedians whom the older people seemed to know. Who WERE they? Who were they? Finding out who those people were (and people like them) brought me to where I am, to what I am doing at this very moment.

In fact, I’ve already written about most of the notable people in the film: Spencer Tracy, Milton BerleSid CaesarEthel MermanMickey RooneyPhil SilversJonathan Winters, Terry-ThomasDorothy ProvineEddie “Rochester” AndersonBen BlueJoe E. BrownWilliam DemarestBuster Keaton, Zasu PittsArnold Stang, the Three StoogesJimmy DuranteJack BennyMinta DurfeeJerry LewisEdie AdamsSelma DiamondLeo GorceyEdward Everett HortonDon Knotts, Carl Reiner, Tom KennedyPaul Ford, Andy Devine, Terry-Thomas, Dick Shawn, Sterling Holloway, Marvin Kaplan, Norman Fell, Buddy Hackett, Peter Falk, Jim Backus, Nick “Nicodemus” Stewart, Roy Roberts, Allen Jenkins, Stan FrebergChick Chandler, and Don C. Harvey. 

Despite its reputation, however, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World includes something quite less than “all the comedians”. In fact many or most of the most important ones are not in it, and many of the old silent alum who were still around are also absent, even as extras or walk-ons. People who were alive at the time but are not in the film include: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Hope and Crosby, Mae West, Stan Laurel, Groucho or Harpo Marx, Edgar Bergen, the Ritz Brothers, Red Skelton, Danny Kaye, Bud Abbott, Bert Lahr, Lucille Ball, Imogene Coca, Martha Raye, Jackie Gleason, Chester Conklin, Hank Mann, Bert Wheeler. Also Steve Allen (big at the time) is not in it. A sad absence is that of Ernie Kovacs. He was intended to be in the cast but died in a car accident before shooting began. Don Rickles really wanted to be in it but they wouldn’t cast him (and he would have been far better and more appropriate than somebody like Mickey Rooney — ye gods).

The film, in the unlikely event you haven’t seen it, is probably the most artistically successful of the silent/ slapstick tribute films of the 1960s (much better, for example than Blake Edwards ‘ egregious The Great Race).  Shown in its sprawling entirety (over three hours, though there are many different versions with differing lengths) It’s a Mad…is a gasser.

For more on classic comedy film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube

6 comments

  1. Hey – all of the Ritz Brothers were surviving at the time. Here’s a list I recently compiled, reedited, and posted. I will have some repeats of yours, but many aren’t. I’ll just copy and paste.

    Groucho Marx – was approached
    Harpo Marx (this was around the time of his retirement; right on the cusp)
    Zeppo Marx
    Margaret Dumont
    Sig Ruman
    Douglas Dumbrille
    Stan Laurel – was approached
    Anita Garvin
    Billy Gilbert
    Mae West
    Charlie Chaplin
    Harold Lloyd
    Burns and Allen – she was in serious retirement
    Our Gang Members
    Huntz Hall
    The Ritz Brothers
    Bud Abbott – reputedly was approached
    Hope, Crosby, and Lamour – Hope was apparently approached
    Joe Besser –was approached
    Christine McIntyre
    Patsy Kelley
    Red Skelton – was approached
    Lucille Ball – reputedly was approached
    Danny Kaye
    Bert Wheeler – no mention of him and the Ritzes was a shocker
    Judy Holliday – reputedly was approached
    Judy Garland – reputedly was approached
    Jackie Gleason
    Peter Sellers – was approached
    Chester Conklin
    Andy Clyde
    Judy Canova
    Martha Raye
    Phyllis Diller
    Cantinflas
    Mary Wickes

    Of COURSE I added second bananas. I mean, Minta Durfee and Alan Carney? It’s an open field!

    If you revert to people who were (at that time) predominately TV comics, or nightclub comics, this list would explode.

    Danny Thomas, Imogene Coca, Jackie Mason (who was approached, apparently), Don Rickles (as you mentioned), Dick Van Dyke, etc., etc., etc.

    This could go on forever.

    Like

  2. Also missing was Margaret Dumont!

    My understanding is they also wanted Judy Holliday, but illness was the problem.

    Joe Besser and Judy Garland had schedule issues.

    Like

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