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 Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Terry-Thomas, Dorothy Provine, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Ben Blue, Joe E. Brown, William Demarest, Buster Keaton, Zasu Pitts, Arnold Stang, the Three Stooges, Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, Minta Durfee, Jerry Lewis, Edie Adams, Selma Diamond, Leo Gorcey, Edward Everett Horton, Don Knotts, Carl Reiner, Tom Kennedy, Paul 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 Freberg, Chick Chandler, Mike Mazurki, Stanley Clements, Bobo Lewis, Barrie Chase, 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