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I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!(1968)


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I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)


On the day Los Angeles lawyer Harold Fine finally agrees to marry his secretary Joyce, a series of accidents introduce him to sweet hippie girl Nancy. When he lets the temporarily homeless girl spend the night in his apartment, she awards him with a batch of pot-laced brownies that accidentally turn on Harold, his fiance and his parents. As a result he walks out on his wedding, drops out of society and moves into the back of his car with Joyce. But can this old dog learn new age tricks or will he soon return to the old life that once drove him crazy?


Director: Hy Averback
Producer: Charles H. Maguire, Paul Mazursky, Larry Tucker
Screenplay: Mazursky & Tucker
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
Editing: Robert C. Jones
Art Direction: Pato Guzman
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Peter Sellers (Harold), Jo Van Fleet (Mother), Leigh Taylor-Young (Nancy), Joyce Van Patten (Joyce), David Arkin (Herbie), Herb Edelman (Murray), Grady Sutton (Funeral Director), Christian Brando (El Greco), Hy Averback (Rabbi), Paul Mazursky (Hippie), Larry Tucker (Hitch-hiker)
C-92 m.

OVERVIEWAfter years of television writing, Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker broke into film with this comic feature. It did so well for them, that when they completed their next film script, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), Mazursky was able to make directing it a condition for selling the script. Mazursky was also motivated by his dissatisfaction with Hy Averback's direction of I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, which he considered too grounded in television comedy. Mazursky's later films demonstrate a much more subtle approach to the material.

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! was one of the first films to deal with the rise of the counter-culture. Despite studio interference, the film still contains elements of Mazursky and Tucker's original vision, based on their own experiences with the movement.

The script contains many elements that would recur in Mazursky's later work, including his ironic views of middle-class life, Los Angeles life, sex, marriage, promiscuity, social trends and his own Jewish heritage. Overall, it reflects a theme that runs through most of his work, the way the mind and heart respond to major cultural changes.

The film offers a rare chance to see Peter Sellers in a more restrained role. He builds the character of Harold Fine subtly in his adoption of a "professional" speaking voice and the way he observes the other actors. In many scenes, he serves as straight man to the more outrageous comedy of Jo Van Fleet as his domineering mother, Joyce Van Patten as his demanding fiance, David Arkin as his hippie brother and Herb Edelman as his law partner.

By Frank Miller

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I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

Peter Sellers held up production one day because a script girl was wearing purple, a color he claimed gave him "bad vibes." The crew had to find a different outfit in wardrobe before Sellers would agree to work.

In Germany, the film was called Let Me Kiss Your Butterfly.

By Frank Miller


"Maybe there's an address on the casket." - Leigh Taylor-Young, as Nancy, trying to help Peter Sellers, as Harold Fine, lead a funeral procession to the cemetery.

"I'm trying to stop trying, guru." -Sellers, as Harold Fine

"I've got pot; I've got acid; I've got LSD cubes; I've got...I've got this thing here...I'm probably the hippest guy around here. I'm so hip, it hurts!" - Sellers, as Harold.

"Am I being a real person?" - Sellers.

"I knew it. I knew it." - Joyce Van Patten, as Joyce, on being dumped at the altar.

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I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

After meeting in the writer's room for The Danny Kaye Show, actor-turned writer Paul Mazursky and writer Larry Tucker teamed up to create the Beatles-inspired television series The Monkees. They originally planned to move into filmmaking with H-Bomb Beach Party, a satire of nuclear war. The script attracted the attention of actor Lawrence Harvey, who wanted to make it with Hunt Stromberg, Jr. producing and Mazursky directing, but the deal fell through. Mazursky had been intrigued by the growing counter-culture movement, had experimented with acid and had attended a few love-ins. But he had never gone too far because he had also started a family with his wife, Betsy. He and Tucker set out to explore a more up-tight, less committed character to see how he would respond to the temptation to drop out of society.

The film was named for Alice B. Toklas, poet Gertrude Stein's secretary and longtime companion. When Toklas published The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in 1954, she included a recipe for "Haschich Fudge." As a result, people started calling brownies laced with marijuana "Alice B. Toklas brownies."

The writing team's agent loved the script but didn't feel he'd had enough experience with film so he sent it to Freddie Fields at Creative Management Associates (CMA, now ICM). Fields also responded positively and saw it as a perfect vehicle for another of his clients, Peter Sellers, who was looking for a film to follow The Party (1968). Fascinated by the hippie scene, Sellers had already started experimenting with drugs and dabbling with Buddhism, which made the project a natural choice or him. When he signed on, Fields negotiated a deal that gave Tucker and Mazursky $200,000 for the script and another $75,000 for executive producing. Sellers was paid $750,000 for acting in the film.

Initially, Sellers wanted Mazursky to direct the film, but the two had a falling out when the actor mistakenly accused Mazursky of making a play for the then-Mrs. Sellers, actress Britt Ekland. Instead, Sellers picked Hy Averback, another television comedy veteran whose two previous films had been Chamber of Horrors (1966) and the Doris Day comedy Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968).

Leigh Taylor-Young made her movie debut as Sellers's hippie sweetheart after making a name for herself in her first television role, as Ryan O'Neal's new love interest (after the departure of Mia Farrow) on Peyton Place.

A young Ed Asner read for the role of Sellers's law partner but lost out to Herb Edelman. As a result, he had to borrow $10,000 from his agent to move his growing family to a larger home. The day he went to collect the check, Sellers and Edelman got in the elevator with him in costume for a scene from the film.

By Frank Miller

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I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

A week into the shoot, Peter Sellers invited Paul Mazursky to his home for a meeting. Given their previous differences, this was a shock in and of itself. At the meeting, Sellers apologized for the misunderstanding and begged Mazursky to take over the direction. Mazursky refused to do it.

This was not a happy period in Sellers's life. He was miserable working in the U.S. and furious that his second wife, Britt Ekland, had signed to make The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968), which was filming on the East Coast while he was working in Hollywood. As a result, he acted out on the set a great deal. At one point, he was convinced the crew hated him and was leaking unfavorable stories about him to the press, so he tried to have them all fired.

During the shoot, Sellers developed a crush on leading lady Leigh Taylor-Young, who was married at the time to her Peyton Place co-star, Ryan O'Neal. That made a huge problem with the scene in which his character is supposed to turn on his hippie sweetheart. Director Hy Averback tried to get Sellers to change the way he was playing the scene to no avail. When Mazursky stepped in and told Sellers his behavior was hurting the film, the actor turned on him, ending the relationship they had just begun to repair.

The beach scenes were shot at Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu and Venice Beach.

Concerned that the film was "too Jewish," executives at Warner Bros./Seven Arts insisted that the cantors at Harold's wedding be dubbed, with English replacing the traditional Yiddish in the wedding service.

Originally, the film included interviews with Beat poet Alan Ginsberg and counter-culture guru Timothy Leary, but the studio cut them, claiming most filmgoers had no idea who they were. Sellers would later claim he, Mazursky and Tucker bribed a guard to let them into the editing room, where they recut the film to represent their vision, but Warner's refused to release that version.

To capture the spirit of the counter-culture on screen, composer Elmer Bernstein featured the sitar, an Indian instrument popular among young people, in his orchestrations.

The popular rock group Harpers Bizarre performs the title song, with music by Bernstein and lyrics by Larry Tucker and Paul Mazursky.

The film premiered in New York on October 7, 1968, before opening around the country on October 18.

Warner Brothers/Seven Arts sold the film with the tagline "The saga of Harold...from dedicated lawyer to dedicated dropout." Afraid of the film's humorous depiction of recreational drug use, the studio backed off from Mazursky's suggestion that they make the poster more psychedelic.

Although I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! was still in release when the Motion Picture Association of America replaced the old Production Code with the current ratings system, the film's producers did not submit it for a rating. They simply kept to their original "For Mature Audiences" label on advertising and at theaters.

By Frank Miller

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teaser I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

Peter Sellers stars in the wacky Sixties comedy, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968) as a straight-laced Los Angeles lawyer persuaded to join the hippie counterculture by a beautiful flower child. Hopelessly conservative and unadventurous, Harold Fine (Sellers) is a mother-dominated mensch, sitting passively by as Mrs. Fine (Jo Van Fleet) plans his upcoming wedding to his equally domineering fiancee Joyce (Joyce Van Patten). But when Harold meets the pot smoking, butterfly-tattooed, doe-eyed hippie Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young), his life changes. Nancy whips up some hash brownies (from a special recipe courtesy of Gertrude Stein's lover Alice B. Toklas), "turns on" the entire bourgeois Fine clan, and before you can say "Magical Mystery Tour," Harold is spouting terms like "groovy" and turning his bachelor apartment into a hippie crash pad. An enthusiastic convert to the peace-and-love way, Harold paints his car in psychedelic colors and takes up residence with Nancy in the back seat.

Though Sellers' brilliant impersonation of a middle-class Jewish lawyer-turned-hippie-drop-out in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! mocked Harold Fine's transformation from a square to a hipster, ironically enough, Sellers also dabbled in the bohemian arts off-screen. According to biographer Roger Lewis, Sellers was afflicted with his own streak of hippie moodiness and a desire to fit into the counterculture. Sellers reportedly banished a script girl from the Alice B. Toklas set for wearing purple which he said gave him "bad vibes." Sellers' son Michael also saw his father succumb to the influence of an Indian guru, and recalled that Sellers would "go about the house wearing kaftans and chanting the scriptures. He would also burn incense and pray before a picture of Buddha."

A significant portion of I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!'s charm and psychedelic ambiance comes not just from Sellers' peculiar brand of comedy, but is also provided by composer Elmer Bernstein's witty score, with the addition of the flower child generation's favorite instrument, the exotic Indian sitar. A legendary film composer and one of Hollywood's most prolific since entering the business in the Fifties, Bernstein was nominated thirteen times by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his film scores, and won in 1967 with his composition for Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). The composer was often referred to as "BernsteinWest" in homage to his film work and to distinguish him from classical composer and "Bernstein East" Leonard Bernstein.

Though he was initially trained to be a concert pianist, Bernstein's successful transition to film composition was clear in the wide range of scores he has since produced, from blockbuster comedies like Animal House (1978) to message films like My Left Foot (1989) and classic Hollywood like The Magnificent Seven (1960) and To Kill A Mockingbird (1962). Bernstein, who trained with renowned composer Aaron Copland built his reputation on innovative uses of all-jazz scores (for The Man With the Golden Arm 1955) in movies, and his early experimentation with electronic music over a career that has included over 100 film and TV scores.

Director: Hy Averback
Producer: Charles Maguire
Screenplay: Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker
Cinematography: Philip Lathrop
Production Design: Pato Guzman
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Peter Sellers (Harold Fine), Jo Van Fleet (Mrs. Fine), Leigh Taylor-Young (Nancy), Joyce Van Patten (Joyce), David Arkin (Herbie Fine).
C-94m. Letterboxed.

by Felicia Feaster

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I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

"As long as it accepts its conventional identity, it's as amiable as the Jewish middle class and hippie scenes it satirizes with a TV gag writer's sensibility. Toward the end, however, the movie gets all mixed up and, under the mistaken impression that it's as wise as The Graduate [1967], it runs off into an unsatisfactory limbo." - Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"Film blasts off into orbit via top-notch acting and direction. Sellers' performance - both in scenes which spotlight his character as well as ensemble sequences in which everyone is balanced nicely - is an outstanding blend of warmth, sensitivity, disillusion and optimism." -- Variety

"Along the journey to nowhere, Sellers displays a few glimmers of the comic genius that once made him seem like a chip off the old Chaplin. But most of the time, the movie reduces him to elephantine gestures and TV-sized jokes." -- Time

"The first half of the film is the best, as Sellers gradually bends the middle-class into non-class...This kind of stuff is good and pretty close to the mark, and Sellers is very funny. Unfortunately, the movie's general approach to hippiedom is what we've come to dread. Hippies wear funny clothes, sleep on the stove, don't wash, read the Los Angeles Free Press, bake pot brownies, put up posters everywhere and operate with a sort of mindless, directionless love ethic. So the movie becomes conventional after all. If they'd dropped Sellers into a real hippie culture, we might really have had a movie here." - Roger Ebert, The Chicago Tribune


Leigh Taylor-Young was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer - Female. She lost to Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliette and Marianne McAndrew in Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker received two nominations from the Writers Guild of America, one for Best Written American Comedy and another for Best Written American Original Screenplay. They lost the former to Neil Simon's script for The Odd Couple and the latter to Mel Brooks's script for The Producers.

By Frank Miller

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