Cast & Crew
Howard St. John
In the hillbilly community of Dogpatch, the local women eagerly await the upcoming running of the annual Sadie Hawkins Day race, during which they can catch a husband. The most determined woman is Daisy Mae, who has chased after the handsome, carefree Li'l Abner Yokum every year without success. Abner's parents, Pappy and Pansy "Mammy" Yokum, are hopeful that Daisy Mae will catch Abner, whom Mammy daily doses with her own "Yokumberry tonic" to make him strong and healthy. Unfortunately for Daisy Mae, Earthquake McGoon, who has recently been crowned "world champion dirtiest wrestler," desires to marry her himself, even though, according to the "code of the hills," they cannot be wed unless she catches him in the race. Hoping to find a solution to his dilemma, Earthquake allies himself with the incompetent Senator Jack S. Phogbound, who, at a village meeting, reveals to everyone that he has discovered a way for Dogpatch to become famous. Phogbound explains that in order to protect Las Vegas from fallout from nearby atomic bomb testing, the U.S. government decided to find the "most unnecessary" town in the country instead to "blow off the face of the earth" with an atom bomb. Dogpatch, having been determined to be the most useless place in the U.S., has been chosen, and so the citizens must evacuate immediately, according to visiting scientist Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale. At first all are pleased by their new distinction until they realize that they will have to leave Dogpatch before the race is held. Daisy Mae is especially horrified when Mayor Daniel D. Dawgmeat confirms that without the race, any male who obtains the consent of a female's kinfolk may claim her in marriage. Daisy Mae's worthless relatives, the foul-smelling and evil-tempered Scragg clan, have already accepted a bribe from Earthquake, and so she will be forced to marry him. The infuriated Mammy and Pappy lead their friends in attempting to find something that will prove Dogpatch is necessary, but even when storekeeper Available Jones shows Finsdale the statuesque Stupefyin' Jones, whose every wiggle can stupefy a man into near-unconsciousness, the scientist dismisses their efforts. Daisy Mae is encouraged, however, as Abner had proposed to her when Earthquake tried to establish his matrimonial claim. When the local Indians give Finsdale's assistant a sample of their Kickapoo Joy Juice, the powerful beverage scorches his throat, so he gratefully takes a swig of Mammy's Yokumberry tonic. Everyone is astonished when the skinny assistant is transformed into a muscle-bound youth, just like Abner, prompting Finsdale and the military representatives to decide to take the tonic, Abner and several other Dogpatch men to Washington, D.C. for testing. If the tonic is a success, Dogpatch will be saved, as the only tree bearing Yokumberries grows in Mammy's yard. The tonic appears to be a sensation, and when Abner announces his intention to give it to the U.S. government for free, private businessmen are irritated. Especially irate is the rapacious General Bullmoose, who believes that he can make a fortune with the Yokum drug. Bullmoose orders his "executive secretary," the dimwitted Appassionata Von Climax, to romance Abner, but even though Abner is awed by Appassionata's charms, he insists on giving away the secret formula. When Abner reveals that he is going home for the next day's race, Bullmoose decides to enter Appassionata in the race and arrange for her to catch and marry Abner, which will then entitle her to half his property, or more if she "accidentally" becomes a widow. Back in Dogpatch, Abner tells Daisy Mae that although he hopes that she will catch him, he will not be able to help but run as quickly as possible. Dismayed, Daisy Mae arranges with Available for the services of Stupefyin' during the race in the hopes that she will stop Abner long enough for Daisy Mae to catch him. When Bullmoose arrives, however, Jones sells him the use of Evil Eye Fleagle, a twitchy villain whose "whammy" renders the recipient incapable of movement. Bullmoose intends to have Fleagle whammy Abner so that Appassionata can catch him, and during the race, despite the best efforts of Daisy Mae and Stupefyin', Fleagle and Appassionata are triumphant. Masking her heartbreak, Daisy Mae acknowledges that Abner now belongs to her rival, and Abner is taken back to Washington, D.C. Soon after, a worried Mammy conjures up a vision revealing Bullmoose's plans to have Fleagle "whammy" Abner into committing suicide after inducing him to reveal the secret tonic formula to Appassionata. Frantic, Daisy Mae agrees to marry Earthquake if he rescues Abner, and so the couple, along with preacher Marryin' Sam, the Yokums and other Dogpatchers, race to D.C., where they crash a fancy party that Bullmoose is throwing for the engaged couple. Although Abner refuses to listen to Daisy Mae's assertions about Appassionata's intentions, Earthquake saves the day by using a tray to deflect Fleagle's truth-telling whammy onto Bullmoose. When Mammy then questions the general, he confirms his nefarious plans. Bullmoose and Appassionata are arrested, but just when the hillbillies think that they are safe, military officers announce that the evacuation of Dogpatch will go through as planned because the tonic is a failure. When Mammy and the others rush to the laboratory for an explanation, Finsdale demonstrates that the tonic, while making men physically perfect and eternally youthful, robs them of any romantic feelings. Mammy is especially distraught, as she realizes that it is her fault that Abner cannot love Daisy Mae. Finsdale insists that Abner stay for further study, but after the others leave, Pappy assures him that there is another potion that can correct his problem, on the condition, that he truly wants it. Abner assures him that he does, and so Pappy wires Sam to stall Daisy Mae and Earthquake's wedding. The next day, Sam does his best to prolong the ceremony, and Daisy Mae helps by bringing in all of her various Scragg relatives, claiming that they want to live with her and her rich husband. Disgusted by the Scraggs, Earthquake readily cedes Daisy Mae's hand to Abner when he arrives suddenly. Pappy gives Abner a swig of his special potion, which, he confides to Mammy, is merely creek water. Because of Abner's belief, however, the liquid works and he happily agrees to wed Daisy Mae. Before the ceremony can be completed, however, the military demands that the evacuation begin. When the hillbillies then attempt to dismantle the statue of Jubilation T. Cornpone, Dogpatch's founder, they uncover a tablet written by Abraham Lincoln, declaring that because of Cornpone's ineptitude in the Confederate Army, the North was able to win the Civil War. With the statue pronounced a national monument, the town is saved from being blown up, and Daisy Mae and Abner celebrate with an enthusiastic kiss.
Howard St. John
Joe E. Marks
Gloria Heather Tennes
Mary O. Thomas
Joseph H. Pryor
Bob A. Smart
William D. Brown
James H. Horan
Kenner G. Kemp
Cleo, A Dog
C. C. Coleman Jr.
C. Kenneth Deland
Daniel L. Fapp
John P. Fulton
J. Mcmillan Johnson
Hal C. Kern
Philip J. Lang
Joseph J. Lilley
Gene De Paul
Arthur P. Schmidt
Dee Dee Wood
Li'l Abner (1959)
This cornpone tale of simple mountain folk stars Peter Palmer as the muscular and handsome (but not exceptionally motivated) Abner Yokum, who resists the flirtations of the "sweet and well-proportioned" Daisy Mae (Leslie Parrish), while living under the care of his small yet feisty Mammy (Billie Hayes). Abner's leisurely life, free of responsibility and commitment, is threatened when the brawny Earthquake McGoon (Bern Hoffman) hatches a plan to steal Daisy Mae away from him. The plot, which involves the government's search for a new site to conduct nuclear bomb tests, becomes more complicated with every reel, until it resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption, bringing into the fray a host of other cartoonish characters, including ruthless capitalist General Bullmoose (Howard St. John); his seductive secretary Appassionata Von Climax (Stella Stevens); Stupefyin' Jones, a woman so beautiful she paralyzes any man who looks at her (Julie Newmar); and zoot-suited hypnotist Evil Eye Fleagle (Al Nesor). The conspiracies and counter-conspiracies culminate in the annual Sadie Hawkins Day race, when Dogpatch's unmarried maidens are allowed to chase and "nuptialize" their commitment-fearing beaus.
Prior to being made as a film, Li'l Abner earned its chops as a splashy Broadway musical. Directed by Michael Kidd, the stage version opened on November 15, 1956 at New York's St. James Theatre, and closed on July 12, 1958, after a whopping 693 performances. While most movies based on stage productions attempt to downplay their theatrical origins, the producers of Li'l Abner relished it. Rather than shoot the film on location or expand it with spectacular visual elements and camerawork, Panama and Frank preserved the artificial settings and maintained the sense of a proscenium dividing audience and performer.
At times resembling a vaudeville show, characters make self-conscious entrances, play to the camera (often looking into the lens), then exit toward the wings after performing their bits. Visually, the sets are designed to resemble a stage, with buildings comprised of two-dimensional flats, trees and cornstalks dyed in vivid hues, all arranged against obviously painted backdrops (the film was shot entirely indoors). Li'l Abner's visual eclecticism is further enhanced by Paramount's VistaVision widescreen process which, though not as panoramic as Fox's CinemaScope, endowed the film with greater sharpness and clarity by devoting more emulsion to each frame.
"Indoors, we could control the entire art direction, right down to how trees and sky looked," Frank explained, "The stylization was important to putting Al Capp's world up there on the screen." (quoted in "Li'l Abner in Hollywood," by Mark Evanier).
The blatant theatricality of Li'l Abner might at first seem like directorial laziness, but this hyper-artificiality and theatricality were calculated components of the film from the very beginning -- even before the Broadway musical was ever performed. In fact, Paramount purchased the rights to Capp's comic (in August, 1955, for more than $300,000) with the understanding that it would first be adapted to the stage, with Panama, Frank, and Michael Kidd producing. This unusual gambit was remarkably successful. A profitable two-year Broadway run allowed the performers and producers the luxury of refining the book and choreography over time, while generating greater audience interest in the 1959 film release.
During preparation of the play, the producers weren't even sure the project would ever reach the screen. Evanier quotes Frank as saying, "We always knew they'd make it into a movie. We just didn't know when. In doing the show though, we had to put the idea of a movie out of our minds."
Clearly inspired by the success of Stanley Donen's MGM musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), Frank and Panama hired its songwriting team of Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul to compose the songs for the stage and screen versions. Co-producer Kidd also came from Seven Brides, having also choreographed such Broadway classics as Guys and Dolls (1950-53) and Can-Can (1953-55). Technically, he did not work on the film version of Li'l Abner due to a contractual dispute, but his dance numbers were faithfully recreated for the film, with the help of his assistant, Dee Dee Wood.
Abner was Peter Palmer's first screen role, and easily his most significant. Raised mostly in St. Louis, Missouri, Palmer studied chorus in high school. He later recalled, "with my six-foot-three, 250-pound frame, I became a hot football recruit for many of the major universities." He accepted an athletic scholarship at the University of Illinois, sometimes performing the National Anthem in full uniform prior to the game. After being drafted into the army, Palmer was one of the winners of the "All Army Entertainment Contest." It was while appearing with the winners on TV's The Ed Sullivan Show that Palmer was discovered.
"The producers/writers Mel Frank and Norm Panama...had been looking for an Abner for a few years, but no one satisfied what they thought were their needs," Palmer told the website BroadwayWorld.com, "They were about to settle on comedian Dick Shawn and had actually told Dick that he was about to be hired for the part...I was on The Ed Sullivan Show that weekend and the producers of Li'l Abner were watching another network promoting a movie that they had made with Bob Hope [That Certain Feeling, 1956] and during a commercial flipped over to Sullivan and there I was singing 'Granada'... A week later I auditioned, and four months later I was in rehearsal."
Most all the actors who appeared in the Broadway version of Li'l Abner reprised their roles in the film, with a few notable exceptions. As the film moved into production, Edie Adams (who won a Tony in 1957 for her performance as Daisy Mae) had become pregnant (with husband Ernie Kovacs) and could not very well be stitched into Daisy Mae's skin-tight costume.
She was replaced by Leslie Parrish. Palmer recalled, "One day they called me in to rehearse with a girl that they thought would work. It was, I believe her big break, her first film. She was so nervous and they asked me to take her into a room and see if I could calm her down. Whatever I said to her, what ever we worked out between us worked on the test and later in the film."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the producers also considered Andy Griffith for the lead. Griffith was popular for his folksy comedy records, and in 1955 was starring on Broadway in No Time for Sergeants.
A lot of performers who appeared in the stage and screen versions of Li'l Abner went on to have successful sitcom careers. On stage, Bullmoose's seductive red-headed secretary was played by Tina Louise, who spent more than three years on a particular uncharted desert isle as bombshell Ginger Grant. On stage, the role of Mammy was played by Charlotte Rae, later of NBC's Diff'rent Strokes (1978-79) and The Facts of Life (1979-1986). Rae was also ruled out of the film because of pregnancy. For the film, Rae was replaced by Billie Hayes, who later became known as Witchiepoo in Sid & Marty Kroft's H.R. Pufnstuf (1969-70). Uncredited bit parts were played in the film by Valerie Harper (Rhoda, 1974-78) and Donna Douglas (Ellie Mae Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies, 1962-71).
The influence of Li'l Abner on down-home comedy was profound. The Beverly Hillbillies is most obviously indebted to the film, with the characters of Jethro, Ellie Mae and Granny being carbon copies of Abner, Daisy Mae and Mammy. Granny's potent "rheumatiz Medicine" is a slightly reformulated version of Mammy's Yokumberry tonic. And the cardboard, color sets and musical variety format of Li'l Abner were recycled for more than two decades on Hee Haw (1969-93), as was the stereotype of the sexual yet naive mountain women, with ever-exposed cleavage.
One could surmise that Capp's comic was inspired by the popular radio comedians, Lum and Abner (1932-1954), whom many say were inspired by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll's blackface personas: Amos 'n' Andy (which began its nightly broadcasts in 1928). The influence of minstrelsy on Li'l Abner and all forms of country comedy are undeniable, if seldom discussed. The comical massacre of the English language, the stilted set-ups and punchlines, the periodic breaks for song-and-dance owe their origin to blackface minstrelsy. But by the 1930s, the musical comedy subgenre had become so distasteful to modern audiences that most of the performers wiped the burnt cork from their faces. Thereafter, the conventions of the entertainment form not only endured but flourished, with audiences quickly forgetting where all that hokum had come from.
Li'l Abner opened to a rave review from The New York Times. Bosley Crowther effused, "Michael Kidd's acrobatic dances, calculated to be done to the new-fashioned hillbilly music of Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul, explode with an energy that is stunning and splatter and splay all over the place with an evidence of joy and jubilation that even gets into the static viewer's bones. Indeed, there's one massive hoedown, done to 'Don't That Take the Rag Offen the Bush,' that had this congenital non-hoedowner twitching for several minutes after it was done."
Crowther also pointed out that alert eyes can spot Jerry Lewis on the screen, in an uncredited cameo as Itchy McRabbit.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "At its worst, it is full of the obvious funnypaper antics that the spectator who lacks much sense of humor knows he is supposed to laugh at. At its best, it is filled with soaringly witty political satire...probably the best intellectual musical comedy fun since Of Thee I Sing."
Time Magazine was not so generous, coldly dismissing the film as, "Rabelais for the retarded."
When Li'l Abner opened on December 11, 1959, at New York's Roxy Theatre, the exhibitor emphasized the film's vaudevillian flavor by preceding the screening with performances by a juggler (Francis Brunn), a dog act (Baudy's Greyhounds), and a team of tumblers (the Four Goetschis).
During awards season, Li'l Abner was a bridesmaid, never a bride. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture; a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture - Musical; and a Grammy nomination for Best Soundtrack Album.
The American Film Institute's Catalog of Feature Films reports that, "Although Panama and Frank had intended to mount other Broadway productions that would lead to films, according to contemporary news items, Li'l Abner was their only Broadway collaboration."
After Abner, Palmer found it difficult to shake the typecast of the muscle-bound bumpkin. "I could not get arrested on stage for films or TV." When asked by an MGM executive whether or not he could act and sing, Palmer responded, "What did you think I was doing?... I am really confused. I am all that Abner isn't. I wear shoes, I have a degree in music, I have three children with one on the way so obviously I like women and all that entails, so isn't that what I was supposed to be doing, act and sing as Li'l Abner?"
Palmer went on to make occasional TV and stage appearances, but was never given another opportunity of the scope and scale of Li'l Abner.
The idea of Sadie Hawkins Day, which continues to thrive as an American dating tradition, originated in Capp's comic strip. It began on November 13, 1937, when the comic introduced the idea of the annual race-for-a-husband. The tradition has morphed into an annual dance in which girls are encouraged to ask the boys for dates, and is commonly observed on the Saturday that follows November 9.
Director: Melvin Frank
Producer: Norman Panama
Screenplay: Melvin Frank and Norman Panama Based on the comic strip by Al Capp
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Production design: J. McMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira
Music: Joseph J. Lilley and Nelson Riddle Songs by Gene de Paul (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics)
Cast: Peter Palmer (Li'l Abner Yokum), Leslie Parrish (Daisy Mae), Billie Hayes ("Mammy" Yokum), Stella Stevens (Appassionata Von Climax), Stubby Kaye (Marryin' Sam), Howard St. John (Gen. Bullmoose), Julie Newmar (Stupefyin' Jones), Bern Hoffman (Earthquake McGoon), Al Nesor (Evil Eye Fleagle), Joe E. Marks ("Pappy" Yokum).
by Bret Wood
Li'l Abner (1959)
I has spoken.- Mammy Yoakum
Why it's the Bar Harbor Scraggs.- Daisy Mae
Yeah, they've been barred from every harbor in the country.- Romeo Scragg
In the opening credits, the phrase "Adapted from the Stage Production" precedes the credits of Lehman Engel, Philip J. Lang and Genevieve Pitot. "And Jubilation T. Cornpone" is listed at the end of the cast credits, although the "character" appears only as a statue prominently displayed in Dogpatch's central meeting area. As reported by contemporary news items, when producers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank purchased the rights to Al Capp's popular comic strip in August 1955, it was with the intention of turning the property into a Broadway musical first and then a film. [According to a modern source, Alan Jay Lerner and Richard Rodgers had earlier, separately, obtained the stage rights to the comic strip for brief periods of time.] As noted by a September 30, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Paramount made a pre-production deal for the film rights to the proposed musical in a deal "said to involve over $300,000." Paramount then largely underwrote the production costs of the highly successful, long-running stage version.
According to a October 9, 1955 New York Times article, if the musical was eventually produced as a film, Panama and Frank, composers Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul and choreographer-director Michael Kidd would adapt it for the screen on "a profit participation basis with Al Capp sharing in the deal." Kidd dropped out of the planned film version, however, due to "other commitments," according to a May 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item. His assistant, Dee Dee Woods, choreographed the movie, based on Kidd's original staging.
According to an March 8, 1956 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column, Panama and Frank and their partners originally wanted to cast Andy Griffith as "Li'l Abner" in both the stage and movie versions. As noted by contemporary news items and reviews of the film, Peter Palmer made first his Broadway debut and then his motion picture debut with Li'l Abner. According to a studio press release, Panama and Frank cast the young singer, a former football star who was then in the army, after seeing his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Although he appeared frequently on television, Palmer did not appear in another feature film until the 1987 Trans World Entertainment production Deep Space. Valerie Harper, who appears in Li'l Abner as one of the hillbilly wives, also worked primarily on television, notably as the title character in the show Rhoda, and did not again appear in a feature film until the 1974 Warner Bros. picture Freebie and the Bean.
Along with Palmer, the majority of the cast from the Broadway show reprised their roles for Li'l Abner. The major exceptions were "Daisy Mae," which was played onstage by Edie Adams, who won a Tony Award for the part; "Appassionata Von Climax," played by Tina Louise; and "Mammy Yokum," played by Charlotte Rae, although Billie Hayes did appear as Mammy in the second year of the Broadway production, as well as with the touring company before appearing in the film.
As reported by Hollywood Reporter news items, Panama and Frank wanted Adams, the wife of television comedian Ernie Kovacs, to reprise her role for the film, but she could not due to pregnancy. Other actresses considered for the part were Shirley MacLaine, Wynne Miller, who played the role on Broadway after Adams left, and Jeanne Carmen. Leslie Parrish, who won the role of Daisy Mae, had previously appeared in numerous films under her real name, Marjorie Hellen. Li'l Abner was the first picture in which she appeared under the name of Parrish. Madlyn Rhue and Anita Ekberg were considered for "Appassionata Von Climax," for which Stella Stevens was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox.
The song "I Wish It Could Be Otherwise" was the only song that did not appear in the Broadway show; according to a Paramount press release, the song was written for the show but was dropped after the initial tryout in Washington, D.C. Although the picture is set mostly outdoors in rural areas, it was filmed on Paramount sound stages on highly stylized, cartoon-like sets.
According to a July 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, the producers intended to insert a joke into the film version Li'l Abner about the scandal-plagued novel Lolita, which was then being planned as a motion picture. The intended dialogue was to be about a twelve-year-old character named "Lolita," whom "Marryin' Sam" was hoping to marry off after her divorce became final. According to information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA strongly objected to the gag, and in the released film, although there is a young girl about whom Marryin' Sam speculates, her age is not specified and she is called "Louella." The PCA office also urged the producers to reconsider the name Appassionata Von Climax, saying that it was in "very bad taste." The film received a "B," or objectionable in part, rating from the National Catholic Legion of Decency, which Paramount protested but could not overturn.
According to a February 1960 entry in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column, the filmmakers were preparing four different versions of the picture for "various markets," with adjustments in the humor for different areas. The item explained that English audiences had not understood the joke about the Sears, Roebuck catalog that was kept in the outhouse, and so it was to be eliminated and replaced with "something British." No other information about alternate versions has been found, however.
The film, which received mostly glowing reviews, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture; a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Musical; and a Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album. The soundtrack was a bestseller and was even released in an improvisational jazz version by noted jazz drummer Shelly Manne, composer-pianist André Previn and bassist Leroy Vinnegar. Although Panama and Frank had intended to mount other Broadway productions that would lead to films, according to contemporary news items, Li'l Abner was their only Broadway collaboration.
Capp's fanciful, often satiric comic strip was the genesis for "Sadie Hawkins Day." Concocted by "Hekzebiah Hawkins," a resident of the fictional town of Dogpatch, Sadie Hawkins Day was first "held" on November 15, 1937 as a way for his homely daughter to catch a husband. Due to his readers' enthusiasm for the event, Capp continued the tradition of the Sadie Hawkins Day race every year, although in 1952, Daisy Mae finally caught and married Li'l Abner. The holiday quickly became part of American culture and some colleges and high schools still hold Sadie Hawkins Dances, to which young women invite their male partners. Capp's comic was so popular that Li'l Abner's marriage to Daisy Mae was used as a cover story for Life magazine. The first film based on Capp's comic was released by RKO in 1940. Also entitled Li'l Abner, the non-musical picture was directed by Albert S. Rogell and starred Granville Owen as Li'l Abner and Martha O'Driscoll as Daisy Mae (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). In 1971, NBC broadcast a one-hour television show based on the comic, directed by Gordon Wiles and starring Ray Young and Nancee Parkinson.
Released in United States 1959
Re-released in United States on Video August 6, 1996
Jerry Lewis has a guest appearance in the film.
Released in United States 1959
Re-released in United States on Video August 6, 1996