Billy Wilder night on Turner Classic Movies

Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like it Hot"Fans of the great writer-director Billy Wilder can have a splendid evening  this Saturday, May 1st, as Turner Classic Movies presents four Wilder directed  films, followed by a 2006 documentary of the seven time Oscar winner. “A Foreign  Affair”(1948) will air at 5 pm, “Some Like It Hot,”(1959) at 7:15 pm, “The  Fortune Cookie,”(1966) at 9:30 pm, and “Major and the Minor,”(1942) at 11:45 pm. “Billy Wilder Speaks,” a 71 minute profile of Wilder, airs at 1:30 am.

Born in Poland, Billy Wilder (1906-2002) arrived in Hollywood in 1933 as a  young screenwriter. His initial success was the comedy “Ninotchka,” which  starred Greta Garbo, resulting in the first of 20 Academy Award nominations for  Wilder. While continuing to write, Wilder began directing as well, helping  establish Hollywood film noir in “Double Indemnity”(1944), and overseeing the  first major motion picture to examine the subject of alcoholism, “The Lost  Weekend” (1945), Wilder won Oscars for both Best Director and Best Screen Play  for “The Lost Weekend.”. By the 1950’s, Billy Wilder had hit his stride, writing  and or directing many all time classics, including “Sunset Boulevard”(1950), “Stalag 17” (1953), and “Sabrina” (1954). Although his 1959 comedy, “Some Like  It Hot” is considered by many as his masterpiece, it was 1960’s “The Apartment” where Wilder enjoyed his greatest success, winning Academy Awards in three  categories: Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Picture. Regrettably, one  picture that Wilder did not get the chance to make was a movie titled “A Day at  the U.N.” that would have reunited the Marx Brothers, but the project was  scrapped when Chico Marx died in 1961.

Billy Wilder’s legacy is his innovation and versatility, as well as his role  in broadening the range of subjects that could be considered material for major  motion pictures .The American Film Institute lists five of his films their 100  funniest American Films, with “Some Like It Hot” holding the top spot. Four  Wilder efforts can be found in AFI’s top 100 American films of the 20th century,  with “Sunset Boulevard” coming in at number 12 .In 1987, Wilder received his  seventh and final Oscar, when the Motion Picture Academy awarded him with the  Irving G Thalberg Memorial Award.

Notes: Billy Wilder died the same day, March 27th, 2002, as Milton Berle and  Dudley Moore. Wilder’s tombstone, borrowing a line from “Some Like It Hot,” says “I’m A Writer, But Then, Nobody’s Perfect.”


“Ball Four,” 40 years and counting

Jim Bouton with his book, Ball FourWhen it was first published in 1970, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four was  easily the most controversial sports book ever written. Reading it 40 years  later, the 371 page chronicle of Bouton’s 1969 Major League Baseball season now  comes off as a somewhat tame, but still, undeniably, great baseball book. The  contribution of Ball Four to sports literature is two-fold, as it not  only gives readers the first real behind-the-scene look at a major league  player’s day to day existence, but it also serves as an excellent recounting of  the Seattle Pilots one year as a major league franchise.

Jim Bouton was a hard throwing right-handed pitcher, who had come up in the  New York Yankee organization, and joined the big club in 1962. Playing with the  Yankees at the tail end of their 1947 to 1964 dynasty, Bouton enjoyed his share  of success, winning 21 games in 1963, and 18 games in 1964, in addition to a  pair of World Series wins. But in 1965, Bouton and the Yankees both began a  rapid decline. While Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford started to slow  down due to age and injuries, Bouton developed arm problems, and could only  manage nine victories over his final four seasons with the Yankees. At the  conclusion of the 1968 campaign, Bouton was sold to the Seattle Pilots, an  American League expansion team, who were to begin operations the following  Spring. It was sportswriter Leonard Shecter who convinced Bouton to keep a diary  of the 1969 campaign, offering to edit it into book form upon its  conclusion.

Bouton’s journal was revolutionary for its time. Rather than merely reliving  games, the manuscript focused on the day to day grind that is Major League  Baseball including the challenge of interacting with a group made up of many  different personalities. Examples of drinking, drug taking, womanizing, and  juvenile humor are found throughout the book, but Bouton also deals with his own  anxiety of being a marginal player on an expansion team, whose status as a major  leaguer was tenuous at best. Although Ball Four is mostly a narrative  of the 1969 season, Bouton sprinkled in some observations of his years with the  Yankees, profiling his legendary former teammate, Mickey Mantle. The book takes  a dramatic turn when Bouton is traded to the Houston Astros with only six weeks  remaining on the schedule.

Excerpts of Ball Four appeared in Look Magazine prior to  the book’s release, and it immediately caused a firestorm. Baseball’s  establishment was upset that Bouton had violated a time honored locker room code  that stated, “What you see here, what you say here, let it stay here.” Bouton  was also criticized for what was perceived as harsh treatment towards Mickey  Mantle. As the June, 1970 publication date neared, Major League Baseball  commissioner Bowie Kuhn publicly denounced the book as being “detrimental to  baseball,” and privately tried to force Bouton to sign a statement recanting his  book’s content. Bouton refused. In August of 1970, Jim Bouton was released by  the Astos, ending his big league career at the age of 31.

Despite the cold reception received from baseball’s inner circle, Ball  Four quickly gained an audience, who appreciated its humor, insight, and  frank description of a major league ballplayer’s life. Since the publication of Ball Four, baseball has had to deal with the Pete Rose gambling  scandal, the season ending 1994 player’s strike, and the more recent allegations  of steroid use. When compared to those issues, stories about baseball  players running around the roofs of hotels, hoping to spot women undressing,  seem to be from a different era. Bouton, now 71, always disclaimed the notion  that Ball Four was meant to be an attack on baseball, as those who have  read the book can easily tell that Jim Bouton loved the game, and would have  done anything stay in it.

Notes: Ball Four is the only sports book to make the New York  Public Library’s 1996 list of “Books of the Century.” In 1978, Jim Bouton made a  comeback, eventually making the roster of the Atlanta Braves. On September 14,  1978, Bouton won his first game in over eight years, and the last one of his  career, beating the San Francisco Giants 4-1.


“Sunset Boulevard” airs on Turner Classic Movies

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard"Whether it was by design or luck, the fact is that William Holden certainly  appeared in more than his share of outstanding motion pictures. A prime example  is “Sunset Boulevard,” the 1950 classic, which airs Sunday, April 25th at 7 pm  on Turner Classic Movies. Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, “Sunset  Boulevard” co-stars Nancy Olson, Eric Von Stroheim, and, of course, silent  screen legend Gloria Swanson, playing the role of silent screen legend Norma  Desmond. Although “Sunset Boulevard” is a fictional story involving the movie  business, the film utilizes several true life Hollywood figures playing  themselves, giving the picture a surreal quality. Among the cameos are Cecil B  DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton and H.B. Warner.

“Sunset Boulevard” begins with the sight of Joe Gillis(Holden) a young  screen writer, floating dead in a swimming pool. The movie then becomes a  flashback, as Joe, acting as narrator, explains the events that led to his  death. It seems that sometime before, a struggling Joe Gillis, while fleeing  from creditors, takes refuge in the garage of a Hollywood mansion belonging to  Norma Desmond, a one-time star from the silent era. Aside from her loyal German  butler Max (Von Stroheim), Norma is a virtual recluse, but learning that Joe is  a writer, she becomes intrigued with the idea of his writing a screenplay which  will propel her back into the limelight. Joe, having no other sources of income,  agrees, and soon finds himself living in Norma’s spacious home, but the  arrangement becomes even more complicated when Joe realizes that Norma’s designs  on him go well beyond producing scripts.

“Sunset Boulevard” was well received initially, garnering 11 Academy Award  Nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Holden), Best Actress (Swanson)  and Best Director, and winning Oscars for Best Music Scoring, Best Screenplay,  and Best Set Decoration. During the 60 years since its release, the film’s  status as a classic has grown, as demonstrated by its number 12 ranking in the  American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top American films. “Sunset Boulevard” also helped establish William Holden, leading him to starring roles in “Stalag  17,” “Picnic,” “Born Yesterday,” “Sabrina,” and “The Bridge on the River  Kwai.”

As effective as Gloria Swanson and William Holden were in “Sunset  Boulevard,” they were not the first actors Billy Wilder considered for the film.  Mae West, Norma Shearer and Mary Pickford were on Wilder’s short list to play  Norma Desmond, while Marlon Brando, Fred MacMurray and Montgomery Clift were all  in the running to portray Joe.

Trivia: Among the notable cameos in “Sunset Boulevard” is the songwriting  team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who are probably best known for composing  the theme to “Bonanza.”


From TV to movie: “The Untouchables”

The Untouchables Movie PosterFor more than 30 years, one of Hollywood’s most frequent sources for movie  material has come in the form of successful TV shows. This practice has had  mixed results, ranging from the highly successful “Star Trek” franchise, to  unmitigated flops like “Car 54 Where Are You,” which, rumor has it, was released  in 1994. One of the best efforts in this genre is “The Untouchables,” the 1987  film based on the 1959-1953 television series of the same name  that featured Robert Stack. Directed by Brian De Palma, “The Untouchables,” staring Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness, airs on AMC Friday, April 23rd at 5:30 pm.  Costner is joined by a strong supporting cast, including Sean Connery, Andy  Garcia, Charles Martin Smith and Robert De Niro as Al Capone.

“The Untouchables” is a somewhat embellished story of the U.S. government’s  ongoing battle against Al Capone’s criminal empire during Prohibition years.  Capone, taking advantage of widespread corruption in Chicago’s City Hall and  police department, seems to have the entire town under his control. The U.S.  Treasury Department entrusts Elliot Ness to put together a team of federal  agents whose moral character make them immune to the kinds of graft and bribery  that have infested other agencies. While Ness and his men conduct numerous raids  against Capone’s bootlegging operation, it becomes increasingly clear that a  direct connection to Capone and the illegal alcohol will be hard to prove.  Another problem for Ness comes in the form of Al Capone’s top enforcer, Frank  Nitti, who threatens both Ness and his family. As the battle continues, Ness  discovers what might be Capone’s real vulnerability, which is the fact that “Big  Al” has not filed an income tax return in four years.

“The Untouchables” was well received by audiences and critics alike. Sean  Connery’s performance as police officer Jimmy Malone resulted in Connery winning  an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Motion pictures based on TV shows  were not a new idea in 1987, but “The Untouchables” differed from the “Star  Trek” films by using an entirely new cast. The success of “The Untouchables” probably convinced producers that TV shows could be recycled without the  original actors, as witnessed by the dozens of big screen adaptations we’ve  witnessed in the last 20 plus years.

Remembering Mechanics’ Pavilion

Mechanics' PavilionBecause the damage brought on by the San Francisco 1906 earthquake was so  widespread, it has become possible to overlook many of the individual disasters  that took place 104 years ago this week. One such example concerns the fate of  Mechanics’ Pavilion, San Francisco’s first major indoor arena. Once considered  the “Madison Square Garden of the West,” the pavilion became one of many  casualties of the great earthquake, but not before having one last fling with  notoriety.

Built in 1882, Mechanics’ Pavilion was a large barn-like structure that  stood in Civic Center at Grove and Larkin. With a seating capacity of nearly  11,000, the building was originally set up for concerts, political conventions,  circuses, and religious assemblies, but within a few years, was best known for  holding major prizefights. John L Sullivan became the first of several world  champions to appear there, staging a number of exhibition bouts in 1884, and  returning in 1886 to knockout Paddy Ryan in three rounds. Mechanics’ Pavilion’s  most controversial fight took place on December 2, 1896, when Bob Fitzsimmons  faced Tom Sharkey in a major heavyweight contest. Both competitors were  dissatisfied with the list of possible referees, and the job ended up being  handed to famed lawman Wyatt Earp. With a sellout crowd looking on, Fitzsimmons  appeared the victor after sending Sharkey to the canvas in the eighth round, but  was as surprised as anyone when Earp declared Sharkey the winner due to a foul.  Whether Earp’s actions were sincere, or part of a betting coupe, has never been  determined.

In 1901, the State of New York temporarily banned professional prizefights,  making San Francisco the epicenter of boxing for the next several years. James  Jeffries, the heavyweight champion of that time, defended his title four times  in the City, three of those bouts taking place at Mechanics’ Pavilion. Jeffries’ match with Jim Corbett, on August 14th 1903, became the most financially  successful fight in San Francisco history up to that time, as 10,600 patrons  paid over $60,000 to watch Jeffries defeat “Gentleman Jim” in ten rounds.

It was 5:12 am on April 18, 1906 when San Francisco was hit with a 7.9  magnitude earthquake. Although Mechanics’ Pavilion survived the impact, nearby  Central Emergency Hospital was not as lucky, much of it turning to instant  rubble. By 5:30 am, patients from the hospital, along with people injured in the  quake were brought into the arena, whose doors had been forced open. By  mid-morning, Mechanics’ Pavilion had become both hospital and morgue, as beds  from neighboring hotels were being brought in by the hour. Unfortunately, by 1  pm, flames from the Hayes Valley fire reached the roof of Mechanics’ Pavilion,  and chief surgeon Dr Charles Miller ordered the building evacuated. Within  hours, Mechanics’ Pavilion was gone.

Now the site of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the 62,000 square foot  block has continued its role as a San Francisco major entertainment spot, now  totaling almost 130 years.


Is “Red River” the best John Wayne film?

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in 'Red River.'Any discussion about which John Wayne film is the best must include “Red  River,” the classic 1948 western, which airs on the Encore Western Channel,  Saturday, April 17th, at 8 pm. Directed by Howard Hawks, “Red River” marked the  screen debut of Montgomery Clift, and also includes Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru,  Harry Carey and John Ireland. Shot in back and white, “Red River” incorporated  great location footage depicting the rugged landscape the principle characters  needed to battle while attempting the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas  along the Chisholm Trail.

“Red River” begins in 1851 Texas, where Tom Dunson (Wayne) shortly after  losing his girl in an Indian massacre, comes upon the only survivor of the  attack, a 14 years old boy named Matthew Garth, who Dunson adopts. Along with  Tom’s companion Groot (Brennan), the three cross the Red River, and establish a  cattle ranch in that remote section of Texas. The movie jumps ahead to 1866.  Although Dunson now owns 9,000 head of cattle, the economy in post-Civil Texas  is too poor to support a decent price for beef. Believing their herd could fetch  top dollar in Missouri, Dunson, Groot and Matt (played as an adult by Montgomery  Clift) hire on a group of extra men, and set out on what proves to be a grueling  journey up the Chisholm Trail. Dunson drives his men very hard, deals out harsh  punishment for indiscretions, and will not allow any man to quit the drive.  Finally, as Dunson looks to hang two would be deserters, Matt rebels, takes  control of the operation, and changes the course of the drive towards Abilene,  Kansas, leaving Dunson behind. Matt knows that completing the cattle drive won’t  be half as difficult as having to deal with Dunson when his adoptive father  eventually catches up with him.

“Red River,” with its gunfights, cattle stampedes, Indian attacks, hangings  and fistfights, has all one could want from a classic western, in addition to  wonderful performances delivered by an outstanding cast. After viewing “Red  River,” John Ford, who directed John Wayne in several of the Duke’s finest  films, reportedly said of Wayne that “I didn’t know the big son of a bitch could  act.” In 1990, “Red River” was selected for preservation in the National Film  Registry by the Library of Congress, and is acknowledged by the American Film  Institute as the fifth best film in the western genre.


“Stealing Lincoln’s Body” to air on The History Channel

Abraham Lincoln's Original TombOf all the many stories, myths and legends involving Abraham Lincoln, the  most bizarre incident involving our 16th President actually happened 11 years  after his death. Friday, April 16th at 10 pm, The History Channel will present “Stealing Lincoln’s Body,” a two hour documentary that originally aired in 2009.  The program covers a 36 year period, beginning with Lincoln’s assassination on  April 14th, 1865, his extensive funeral which saw his remains moved by train  from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, with 12 stops in between, and  ending with his final internment in 1901. But the heart of “Stealing Lincoln’s  Body” is the stranger-than-fiction tale of the attempted theft of Abraham  Lincoln’s corpse.

In 1876, a gang of Illinois counterfeiters had come upon hard times when  their master engraver, Sam Boyd, was sent to prison. Desperate to get back into  business, the gang’s leader, “Big Jim” Kinealy devised what he felt to be the  perfect caper. Kinealy’s plan was to break into Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield  tomb, make off with the body, and use it to demand a $200,000 ransom, in  addition to the immediate release of Sam Boyd. Kinealy’s first order of business  was to recruit a new gang member by the name of Lewis Swegles, who was, in  reality, an undercover secret service agent.

The night of November 7th, 1876 was chosen for the “heist,” because it was  election night and Kinealy figured that the city of Springfield would be  preoccupied following the Hayes-Tilden voting. As anticipated, there were no  signs of security at the Oak Ridge Cemetery, and once on the grounds, the gang  quickly managed to saw off the padlock to the crypt’s door and then succeeded in  removing the marble lid to Lincoln’s sarcophagus. While trying to pry the coffin  out of the sarcophagus, Swegles was ordered to fetch the horse-drawn wagon that  was to be used to transport the body to neighboring Indiana. Instead, Swegles  signaled the eight detectives to come out of hiding, and although the would be  grave robbers were able to escape the cemetery, they were rounded up days later.  The Kinealy gang were eventually sent to prison for one year, which, amazingly,  was the maximum sentence for their offence.

There is an unusual postscript to this story. In 1901, improvements to  Lincoln’s burial site resulted in his remains being disturbed once again. It was  decided that his coffin would be placed in a ten foot deep vault, which would be  covered with concrete, eliminating any future plots to steal the 16th  President’s body. Before the final internment, a decision was made to open the  coffin, just to confirm Lincoln’s presence inside. On September 26th, 1901, 23  people gazed upon a face which, even 36 years dead, was still familiar to  all.


Candlestick Park turns 50

Original  CandlestickRichard Nixon was probably sincere when, on April 12th, 1960, he proclaimed  the San Francisco Giants’ new ballpark as the “finest in America.” However, it  would not be long before Candlestick Park would have as many critics as,  well, Richard Nixon. In any case, this week marks the 50th anniversary of  Candlestick Park’s opening, although the event has gone almost unnoticed, as the  Giants themselves are more inclined to celebrate the fact that this season,  their current ballpark, AT&T Park, turns ten.

One of the factors that convinced Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move his  ball-club from New York to San Francisco after the 1957 season was the promise  of a new stadium, complete with plenty of parking. Stoneham was shown the  projected site by San Francisco Mayor George Christopher, which was an area  located in the Southeastern part of the city, a section by the bay near  Candlestick Point. The land had more than enough room for both a stadium and an  extensive parking lot, but it also, unbeknownst to Stoneham, happened to be just  about the coldest and windiest spot in all of San Francisco. Construction began  in 1958, while the newly transplanted Giants spent their first two seasons in  San Francisco playing their home games in tiny Seals Stadium. A prelude to the  future happened one afternoon when Giants vice president Chub Feeney paid a  visit to the Candlestick construction site, and noticed debris blowing every  which way. “Is it always this windy?” Feeney asked one of the workmen. The  answer he received was “only between one and five.”

The major league baseball landscape was a bit different on April 12th, 1960  when the Giants hosted the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day. The National  League was still comprised of eight teams, each playing a 154 game schedule,  which meant the Giants-Cardinals game represented the first of 22 meetings  between the two clubs. The combined payroll for the two squads totaled around  $800,000, which today might get you Barry Zito…for a week. St Louis  right-fielder Joe Cunningham became Candlestick’s first ever batter, and the  42,269 fans who filled the new park cheered when Giant’s starting pitcher Sam  Jones induced him to foul out. Two batters later, Bill White got Candlestick  Park’s first hit, a single to right. The bottom of the first saw Orlando Cepeda,  starting in left-field that day, produce the park’s first RBI’s , as he ripped a  two-run triple. San Francisco went on to win 3-1, with Jones limiting the Cards  to three hits, one of those being Candlestick’s first homer, a bases empty blast  by Leon Wagner in the fifth.

After winning 18 of their first 25 games, both the team and the new ballpark  began to face adversity. Although the 1960 Giants set of franchise attendance  record of nearly 1.7 million, fans began complaining about watching baseball  while nearly freezing to death in a cold stadium. Visiting players found  Candlestick Park a near nightmare, as the prevailing winds made any attempt to  field a pop-up or a fly ball a fool’s mission. Despite their quick start, the  Giants slowly began to sink in the standings, and 58 games into the season,  manager Bill Rigney was fired, replaced by Tom Sheehan. Even with future Hall of  Fame players Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal in  their lineup, San Francisco would end the 1960 season in fifth place, at  79-75.

History has happened countless times at Candlestick Park over the last 50  years, much of it of course, being made by the San Francisco Forty-Niners, who  have called the stadium home since 1971. Although Candlestick has never received  the kind of affection afforded to the likes of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park,  the list of noteworthy events that took place there is quite impressive. With a  resume that includes two MBL All-Star games, two World Series, three NLCS  Championship series, six NFC Championships, the Beatles final concert (8-29-66)  and a 7.1 on the Richter Scale earthquake, one hopes that when the place is  finally torn down, Candlestick Park will at least rate a decent  monument.


Boxing great Joe Louis profiled on ESPN Classic

Joe LouisIf boxing had its own Mount Rushmore, it would probably be comprised of Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano and the man who held the heavyweight title longer than any other fighter, Joe Louis. Louis, champion from 1937 to 1949, will be profiled on ESPN Classic’s “Ringside,” Sunday, April 11th at 10 pm. Hosted by Brian Kenny and Bert Sugar, the 2 ½ hour program will feature filmed footage of “The Brown Bomber’s” key fights, as well as in studio analysis by several boxing experts and historians.

After an astounding amateur career, Joe Louis made his professional debut in 1934, and quickly rose to top contender status. Louis’s most difficult opponent in the earlier stage of his career was the racism that had prevented African Americans from fighting for the heavyweight title. It had been 20 years since the controversial reign of the first African American heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, and the sports establishment was not anxious to relive a similar experience. Louis’s management team forged an alliance with the country’s top promoter, Mike Jacobs, and capitalized on Joe’s image as a hard working, clean living athlete to help make him acceptable to White America. After destroying former champion Max Baer in four rounds in September of 1935, Louis appeared ready for a match with Jim Braddock for the title, but a 12 round kayo loss to Germany’s Max Schmeling in 1936 seemed to put a championship bout out of reach. Although Schmeling was now the logical contender for a crack at the title, Jacobs, through some clever maneuvering, was able to secure the title fight for Louis, and in June of 1937, Joe Louis became the heavyweight champion of the world with an eighth round knockout over Jim Braddock. The next year, Louis would gain his finest victory, a one round kayo over Max Schmeling, avenging his only loss.

Joe Louis was by far the heavyweight division’s most active champion, defending his title successfully 25 times, and holding the crown for over 11 years, including the four year period when Louis enlisted in the armed services, and was inactive as a fighter. Retiring in 1949, Louis found himself in deep trouble with the I.R.S., owing the government millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. Forced to re-enter the ring, Louis lost a 15 round decision to his championship successor, Ezzard Charles, and hung up his gloves for good after suffering a crushing knockout at the hands of Rocky Marciano in 1951.

Seeing films of Joe Louis’s fights only tell a part of his story. Much of Joe’s career took place at a time when Major League Baseball, the NFL, and most major college sports included no people of color. For much of the 1930’s, Joe Louis was the nation’s most prominent African American, and any Louis bout would be a major cultural event in the Black community, as millions would gather around radios to listen to the fight’s broadcast. Eventually, Louis would become a hero to all America, and upon his death in 1981 at the age of 66, Joe Louis was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1993, Louis became the first boxer featured on a U.S. Postage stamp.

“Animal House” to air on Cinemax

Animal House PosterIt would be hard to find any motion picture that did more to change the face  of screen comedy than “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” Released in 1978, “Animal House” airs on Cinemax , Wednesday, April 7th at 6:20 pm. Starring  John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, Karen Allen and Donald Sutherland, “National Lampoon’s Animal House” broke new ground by simply channeling the  cutting edge baby-boomer humor of the mid- 1970’s from sources such as “Saturday  Night Live,” and National Lampoon magazine, and applying it to the big screen.  Also noteworthy is the fact that most of the writers and producers of “Animal  House” were boomers themselves, demonstrating that the post-war generation was  capable of producing it’s own cinema.

“Animal House” takes place at fictional Faber College in 1962, where a rowdy  fraternity, Delta Tau Chi, constantly finds itself in conflict with both  the college dean, and neighboring Omega Theta Pi.. Already placed by the  dean on “double secret probation,” the Delta’s penchant for food fights, toga  parties and “road trips” result in their being expelled for failing grades. The  annual homecoming parade becomes the Delta’s perfect ticket for sweet  revenge.

“National Lampoon’s Animal House,” laboring under a 3 million dollar budget,  ended up earning over 140 million, propelling first time director John Landis on  to Hollywood’s A-list while also establishing John Belushi as a bankable film  star. Flushed with the success of “Animal House,” Landis and Belushi would  re-team two years later, producing “The Blues Brothers.” It wouldn’t be long  before the “gross-out genre” ushered in by “Animal House” would inspire movies  such as “Porky’s” and “Revenge of the Nerds,” and can be credited in spawning  much later efforts, such as “Old School” and the “American Pie” series. In 2001, “National Lampoon’s Animal House” was selected by the Library of Congress for  preservation in the National Film Registry.

One problem the producers of “Animal House” had was finding a college or  university willing to allow its campus to be used for location shooting. Because  of the nature of the script, several schools turned the film makers down, until  finally University of Oregon’s president William Beaty Boyd gave “Animal House” the green light. Later, Boyd explained that years earlier, at another college,  he turned down the opportunity to have another motion picture filmed on his  campus, believing that film too potentially controversial. That movie turned out  to be “The Graduate,” and Boyd didn’t want to make a similar  mistake.