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1962 Best Scoring of Music Adaptation or Treatment Nominees
Remind Me


Fresh from his Oscar® nomination for Robert Rossen's The Hustler (1961), in which he had played a vaguely fictionalized Minnesota Fats against Paul Newman's ambitious poolroom ringer, Jackie Gleason turned his attention from comedy toward more prestige pursuits. Gigot (1962) was a long-standing pet project, the tale of a simple French custodian who safeguards the young daughter of a prostitute and suffers a host of indignities as payment for his selflessness. The character had antecedents in Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921) and in King Vidor's The Champ (1931), which had netted star Wallace Beery an Academy Award for playing a washed up boxer with a tagalong son, as well as Lou Costello and Gleason's patented Poor Soul character. With his eye on Academy gold, Gleason conceived of a grand project, to be written by Paddy Chayefsky (an Oscar®-winner for Marty in 1955) and directed by no less than Orson Welles. Gleason pitched the concept to executives at 20th Century Fox, explaining that the film could only be shot on location, in France, using mostly Continental talent, save for Gleason himself - who would etch the lumpen Gigot in pantomime, without uttering a single word of dialogue. Fox gave the project the green light, with conditions.

Twenty years beyond his dynamic directorial debut with Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles was no longer considered commercially viable (even his masterful latter day noir, Touch of Evil, had been released without fanfare by Universal-International in 1958, dumped into a "B" slot to support the Hedy Lamarr vehicle The Female Animal). When Fox refused to back Gleason's first choice, other hirelings were sought and many turned the assignment down pat. First to say yes was Gene Kelly, the premiere Hollywood dancer/choreographer/and leading man, who had tried his hand at directing shorts for the Allied effort during World War II. In peacetime, Kelly had helmed the innovative musicals On the Town (1949) and Singin' in the Rain (1952), though his last film, the Doris Day vehicle The Tunnel of Love (1958), had been a box office non-starter. Adjusting his own professional expectations accordingly, Kelly sublimated his own artistic ego to Gleason's galloping vanity and only smiled when The Great One alleged to Ed Sullivan in January 1961 that Kelly had been his first choice all along, averring that "a dancer is the best director for a comedian. The timing is the same." For The Paris Bulletin, Kelly would maintain "Gigot... is a ballet, comic yet with deep pathos, and of course my primo ballerina is Jackie Gleason."

Thwarted in hiring his director-of-choice, Gleason was further stymied when it came to bringing in a screenwriter - though not by studio fiat. First choice Paddy Chayefsky simply said no, leaving Gigot to make do with John Patrick, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hasty Heart and Teahouse of the August Moon whose screenwriting credits also included Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), High Society (1956), and Les Girls (1957), which had starred Gene Kelly in his last MGM production (that is, until the nostalgic clip compilation That's Entertainment! in 1974). When production commenced in Paris in the spring of 1961, making use of mostly local talent (among them, cinematographer Jean Bourgoin, who had already shot Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle [1958] and Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus [1959] and was pointed to a shared Oscar® for his work on The Longest Day that same year), Gleason and Kelly exhibited markedly different working styles, with the director living modestly in a rented flat and riding the Metro to work while his star lived lavishly, occupying a grand hotel penthouse, insulated from the hoi polloi via a network of hangers-on and celebrity friends, who enjoyed an open invitation to drop by the set at any time. By all reports, Gleason lived so richly while playing the penniless Gigot that his weight ballooned visibly, forcing Kelly to put him on a diet for the sake of continuity.

Despite being at loggerheads throughout principal photography, Gleason and Kelly were happy with the result of their collaboration... until Gigot was recut by its distributor. "This was my unhappiest experience in the picture business," Kelly lamented. "We showed the film to the armed services... and received enthusiastic response. When next I saw the film in New York, it had been so drastically cut and re-edited that it had little to do with my version. I was never consulted, and I never found out who was responsible for cutting it... (Studio interference) caused the picture to look like a continual pantomime, with Gleason following himself in a series of sketches. He was brokenhearted about it. We thought we had a minor classic - but not as it stands." The critics were largely in agreement with Kelly and Gigot was a box office flop upon release in September 1962. The 20th Century Fox release did attract the attention of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences -in the form of an Oscar® nomination for composer Michel Magne, who lost the honor to The Music Man's Ray Heindorf.

By Richard Harland Smith


Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams by Alvin Yudkoff (Billboard Books, 2001)

Jackie Gleason: An Intimate Portrait of the Great One by W. J. Weatherby (Pharos Books, 1992)