Cast & Crew
In the mid-19th-century English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, kindly Doctor Dolittle has grown disenchanted with human beings and tends solely to the needs of animals. With the help of his parrot, Polynesia, he has mastered the dialects of some 500 animals. His only human friends are Matthew Mugg, an Irish cat food seller, and Tommy Stubbins, a local lad. The doctor's immediate concern is raising money to search for the legendary Great Pink Sea Snail. When a friend sends him the rare pushmi-pullyu (a two-headed llama), the doctor takes the animal to the rundown circus of Mr. Blossom and exhibits it for profit. At the circus he befriends Sophie, a lonely seal who is pining for her mate at the North Pole. Sympathetic to her plight, Dolittle dresses Sophie in a woman's shawl and bonnet and sets her free by tossing her into the English Channel. His act of mercy is misinterpreted, however, and he is charged with murder, and although acquitted, he is committed to an asylum.
Matthew, Tommy, and the doctor's animal friends arrange for his escape, and, accompanied by pretty Emma Fairfax, they all set sail to find the Great Pink Sea Snail. They are shipwrecked during a storm at sea and cast upon a floating island ruled by a giant native called William Shakespeare the Tenth. The newcomers are blamed for a sudden spell of chilly weather and sentenced to death, but Doctor Dolittle saves the day by both curing an epidemic of colds and arranging for the giant blue whale to push the island back to its position on the African mainland. Then the Great Pink Sea Snail arrives for its annual visit, also suffering from a nasty cold.
Once cured, the grateful creature offers the inside of its spacious shell to transport everyone back to England. Dolittle, however, elects to remain behind rather than risk reimprisonment. After his friends have left, and he finds himself pining for Emma, Sophie the seal pays him a visit to announce that all the animals in England are on strike because of the injustices done to him and, further, that the authorities are anxious for his return. Dolittle quickly designs a saddle for the Giant Lunar Moth and soars off in the moonlight for a speedy return to Puddleby-on-the-Marsh.
Musical numbers : "My Friend the Doctor" (Matthew), "The Vegetarian," "Talk to the Animals" (Dolittle), "At the Crossroads" (Emma), "I've Never Seen Anything Like It" (Albert, Dolittle, Mrs. Blossom, & Ensemble), "When I Look Into Your Eyes," "Like Animals" (Dolittle), "After Today" (Matthew), "Fabulous Places" (Emma), "I Think I Like You" (Dolittle, Emma), "Doctor Dolittle" (Matthew & Ensemble), "Something in Your Smile" (Dolittle).
L. B. Abbott
Samuel E. Beetley
Arthur P. Jacobs
Arthur P. Jacobs
Jungleland Of Thousand Oaks (california)
Emil Kosa Jr.
Stuart A. Reiss
Walter M. Scott
Jack Martin Smith
Douglas O. Williams
Best Visual Effects
Best Art Direction
Best Music Original Dramatic Score
Doctor Dolittle (1967) -
Doctor Dolittle also followed a peak in the career of Samantha Eggar, who plays Emma Fairfax, the good doctor's tentative love interest. Eggar was coming off an Oscar nomination for The Collector (1965) and a turn as the leading lady of the Cary Grant vehicle Walk, Don't Run (1966). After Doctor Dolittle she was off the screen for three years, and then turned her attention mostly to television, where she had begun her acting career. A non-singer, she is dubbed in the film by Diana Lee.
Doctor John Dolittle is the hero of a series of children's books by Hugh Lofting that began in 1920 with The Story of Doctor Dolittle. Preferring animals to humans, this doctor can speak to his patients in their own languages and uses this ability in his work as a naturalist, arriving at a better understanding of nature and history. Lofting invented the character in illustrated letters to his children that he wrote from the trenches of World War I. The stories are set in the fictional village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh in the West Country of Victorian England, and include a few of the doctor's human friends, in addition to such fanciful animals as the Pushmi-pullyu, a two-headed llama. The Harrison film is one of a number of adaptations of the books, including a 1928 animated German short, Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere, and an NBC radio series of the 1930s. Later came several stage adaptations, television cartoon series and audio books. Most famously, Eddie Murphy starred in a 1998 remake that had its own sequels in 2001, 2006, 2008 and 2009, with Kyla Pratt eventually taking over as Dolittle's daughter Maya.
The 1967 film sprang from an idea by producer Arthur P. Jacobs to reunite Harrison with Alan Jay Lerner, the lyricist and librettist of My Fair Lady. (Lerner's partner on that project, composer Frederick Loewe, had since retired.) Harrison signed on to the project because of the lure of working with his friend and former colleague, only to learn that, after months of delays in writing a screen treatment of Doctor Dolittle, Jacobs had fired Lerner. To Harrison's displeasure he was replaced by Leslie Bricusse, who had enjoyed a great success with the 1961 Anthony Newley vehicle Stop the World - I Want to Get Off. On the day Bricusse began work on the film he wrote "Talk to the Animals," which would become a breakout hit and win an Oscar as Best Song. But Harrison was unimpressed with Bricusse's work in general and that song in particular. "A humorous song is meant to be funny," he sniffed. "This isn't funny."
Harrison's behavior became so irascible that he, too, was fired from the film - by Richard Zanuck, then president of 20th Century Fox. Among the actors considered as his replacement were Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Jack Lemmon and Peter Ustinov. Christopher Plummer was almost hired, and the studio went so far as to buy out his contract for the Broadway play The Royal Hunt of the Sun. But two weeks after his firing, a chastened Harrison was rehired. As Zanuck put it, when Harrison "heard about Christopher Plummer he temporarily turned into a human being again and begged his way back." Meanwhile, Richard Fleischer (Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1954) was hired as director after failed discussions with Vincente Minnelli, John Huston and William Wyler.
Harrison had suggested his friend Maggie Smith for the role eventually played by Eggar, and Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand and Hayley Mills had been on the studio's wish list. For the important role of Dolittle's friend Matthew Mugg, the names floated included Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby and David Wayne. But producer Jacobs, who wanted someone younger, settled on Bricusse's creative partner Anthony Newley (then married to Joan Collins). According to Mark Harris in his 2008 book Pictures at a Revolution, Newley's casting sent Harrison into "fits of anger and paranoia," and he would openly disparage his costar as a "Jewish comic," a "Cockney Jew" or a "sewer rat." Peter Bull was considered for the role of circus owner Albert Blossom, but Richard Attenborough was cast after concerns arose about Bull's fondness for drink.
The role of Bumpo, a black man that Dolittle befriends on a voyage to Africa, proved troublesome because the racism and condescension of Lofting's era was reflected in his drawing of the character. After a careful reworking of Dolittle's relationship with Bumpo in the film script, Jacobs scored a coup by getting Sammy Davis, Jr. to agree to play the role. Again, Harrison raised objections, saying that he wanted to work with "a real actor, not a song-and-dance man." At his insistence, Sidney Poitier was offered the role instead, and tentatively accepted. To the relief of many, Zanuck and Jacobs finally decided to cut the character of Bumpo altogether, saving Poitier's salary of $400,000 and shortening an overlong screenplay. Geoffrey Holder plays a truncated version of the character called William Shakespeare X, who does not sing. Ironically, Sammy Davis, Jr., who had been bitterly disappointed by his loss of the role, had a hit recording of "Talk to the Animals."
Problems with the human performers of Doctor Dolittle paled in comparison to those related to location shooting, weather and, above all, the supposedly well-trained animals so necessary to the action of the film. Harrison devoted an entire chapter in his memoir to these problems, beginning with the filming at Castle Combe in Wiltshire, England, which was standing in for Puddleby. Castle Combe was about 100 miles from the sea, so studio technicians were obliged to dig holes and streams, build dams and import water to turn it into a fishing village. Understandably, this did not sit well with the locals. It was August - the rainy season - and constant downpours turned the fields where the animals were kept into quagmires. "Eventually the powers that be conceded victory to the rain," wrote Harrison, "and decided to leave dripping Wiltshire and rebuild the doctor's house, and part of the village, on 20th Century Fox's ranch in California. Anything less like England would be hard to conceive of."
Meanwhile, animal-training work at California's Jungleland was proving more difficult and time-consuming than anyone had anticipated, as the trainers tried teaching tricks to a rhinoceros, a giraffe, and several hundred chimps, pigs, birds, mice, sheep, cows, squirrels, chickens and parrots. Most did not behave well once they were on the set, and Harrison complained of bites from a Pomeranian puppy, a duck, a parrot and Chi-Chi the chimp. Squirrels chewed through some key pieces of scenery, and Gub-Gub the pig had to be replaced several times because piglets grow so quickly. Other problems included a nervous squirrel that passed out after being fed gin by technicians in an effort to calm it; a fawn that had to have its stomach pumped after it drank a quart of paint; a goat that ate the director's script; ducks that sank in a pond because they had shed their waterproof feathers; and sheep that urinated on Harrison in their scenes together. "My love for animals was at a remarkably low ebb," the star later wrote.
Additional location filming in St. Lucia, a Caribbean island that stood in for Africa, also was fraught with problems. The wet summer there meant swarms of insects, and cast and crew suffered from bites that often became infected. Dysentery was common, and both Newley and 10-year-old William Dix, cast as Dolittle's young friend Tommy Stubbins, suffered from severe attacks of flu. Harrison, cantankerous as ever, had rented a three-masted schooner and steered it into a scene on the water involving Newley. Although he knew he was holding up the shot, he refused to move the boat for two hours. Analyzing Harrison's hostility, Eggar remarked that, "Yes, he was unkind and vitriolic and very mean-spirited, but he was also very funny - until, of course, he turned on me, too."
Reviews for the film were mostly lackluster, with Time magazine's reviewer noting that "Size and a big budget are no substitute for originality or charm." Another critic wrote that the movie was "neither light enough nor fantastic enough for children, and neither sophisticated enough nor adult enough for their elders." Despite these reactions, however, Doctor Dolittle shocked the creative community by winning nine Academy Award nominations. In addition to winning Oscars for Best Song and Special Effects, it was nominated in the categories of Best Picture, Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, Scoring of Music and Sound. The Best Picture nomination was particularly galling to some, including Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood -- the source of a 1967 film not nominated as Best Picture. "Anything allowing a Dolittle to happen is so rooked up it doesn't mean anything," he fumed. In his book, Mark Harris credits the film's nominations to a "prime-rib-and-free-booze campaign" waged by producer Jacobs through dinner screenings for Academy voters.
The movie had been part of a massive effort by Fox to duplicate its spectacular success with 1965's The Sound of Music by producing three elaborate and expensive musicals over a period of three years, Star! (1968) and Hello, Dolly! (1969) being the others. All three failed at the box office, none more spectacularly than Doctor Dolittle, which cost almost $18 million to produce and returned only $3.5 million in rentals. Like many another film, however, it eventually found its audience through television and video screenings, where expectations were not so high and the movie's whimsical charms seemed less overwhelmed by its production values.
By Roger Fristoe
Doctor Dolittle (1967) -
I speak over two thousand languages, including Dodo and Unicorn.- Ploynesia the Parrot
This fellow obviously knows what he's talking about.- Dr. Dolittle
Who wrote the book, Doctor?- Matthew
Er. Oh, I did.- Dr. Dolittle
I promise to ask for no special privileges.- Emma Fairfax
I promise to grant none- Dr. Dolittle
If I were his nephew instead of his niece...- Emma Fairfax
If you were his nephew, you'd hardly be called Emma Fairfax.- Dr. Dolittle
Being is prison is much the same as being at sea. Except that in prison you stand a worse chance of drowning.- Matthew
'Harrison, Rex' was under contract to play the title character but after the departure of original scriptwriter Alan Jay Lerner, Harrison tried to back out of the project. 'Plummer, Christopher' was hired as a replacement. When the studio successfully lured Harrison back they paid Plummer his entire agreed-upon fee of $300,000 to sit out the production of the film.
"The Reluctant Vegetarian" number proved to be one of the hardest to film, mainly because of the number of animals that had to sit still for a lengthy period. Hours of rehearsal and preparation went into it before filming actually started. During the first take, it looked like they might actually get it done without any additional shooting - but then Rex Harrison stopped singing. Director Richard Fleischer asked him why he stopped, and Harrison said he heard him yell "Cut!" Fleischer denied this, and just as they were starting to argue about it, both of them heard a voice yell "Cut!" The guilty party turned out to be Polynesia the Parrot, who obviously had heard Fleischer yell this word many times during the production. Harrison took this in good humor, saying "That's the first time I've ever been directed by a parrot. But she may be right. I probably can do it better."
Rex Harrison was frequently bitten by the animals.
No one expected that shooting a scene with ducks swimming in a pond would be difficult. However, when the ducks were placed onto the pond they sank! Apparently it was the wrong time of year and the ducks had lost their water-repellent feathers and couldn't swim.
This movie set was no picnic. - One of the fawns snacked on a quart of paint during a scene break and had to have her stomach pumped. - Gub-Gub the Pig had to be replaced several times during filming since piglets grow so fast. - Squirrels ate through several key pieces of scenery, costing the crew thousands of dollars in repairs. - In the scene where 'Harrison, Rex' is singing in the field of sheep, he had to be sprayed down repeatedly for flies. Worse, the sheep urinated on him as well, forcing multiple retakes. - One of the goats broke loose during a scene and managed to get a hold of the director's script and eat it. - The first several weeks of filming were disrupted by torrential downpours -- and a homemade bomb, set by a disgruntled member of the town the crew was filming in.
Nine separate versions of the musical soundtrack were commissioned in several languages, with over a million copies pressed total. Almost none of them sold, which is why to this day the soundtrack turns up in many thrift stores and 99-cent "cut out" bins.
Location scenes filmed in Castle Combe, England, and Santa Lucia, British West Indies.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best English Language Films by the 1967 National Board of Review.
Released in United States Winter December 19, 1967
Released in 35mm and 70mm prints.
Released in United States Winter December 19, 1967