1st Sky High

Sky High

Let me tell you a story that I never wrote; the one that got away. We all have stories

like this, but I want to tell this one. Why now? Let me put it this way, it’s safe to reveal it

because the main players are all dead; especially one very dangerous player.

Let’s set the scene. We are in Hollywood, that magical place that only exists in the mind. In

reality it’s a rat infested sewer where only the big rats survive. It’s the year 1955 and we are

looking at a big one. Planned is the film version of Guys and Dolls the stage musical. You

know, the production that has songs like “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’

The Boat.”  That one. Producer Samuel Goldwyn wants it made and he’s got Joseph

Mankiwicz directing. It’s going to be a big production. All that’s left is the casting.

The plot revolves around unlicensed crap games and some shady characters named Sky

Masterson and Nathan Detroit. Then at the opposite end of the character spectrum we have a

nun, yes a nun, called Sister Sarah Brown. A trip to pre-Castro Cuba is also involved. But

that’s all you need to know. Now, the casting.

First name off the rank is Gene Kelly for the lead role of Sky Masterson. And why not?

He’s a big name, he can dance and sing. But, yeah, there’s always a but in Hollywood. Studio

politics intervene and Kelly is suddenly out of the picture. So who is up for the Sky role?

One character out there in entertainment land really wants the role. He wants it so bad

that…well he wants the role. The guy who wants to be Sky is Frank, Frank Sinatra. He can

sing, he’s a big name and he can dance, if not as good as Kelly, but he can shuffle a decent

step. In other words, he looks a perfect fit for the part.

But Goldwyn and Mankiwicz have other ideas. They don’t want Frank, they want an even

bigger name. A bigger name than Frank? Is that possible? So who is this bigger name? The

name that they agree on is Marlon Brando.

Let’s pause here. Brando in 1955 was about as big as you could get. He’s just won the

Academy Award for the Best Actor for his role as ex-boxer Terry Malloy in On The

Waterfront. The film was a box-office hit. He looks good, he’s handsome and well, he’s

Brando. But, that word again, but there’s a problem. Brando has never been in a musical

before. Why? Because he can’t sing or dance. But Goldwyn and Mankiwicz want him and he

accepts the role of Sky despite his obvious short comings.

Now what do you think Frank does once he hears this? He’s not a happy guy. Especially

when Frank is relegated to the second lead, Nathan Detroit. Frank also has personal history

with Brando. Frank wanted the role of Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront but it went to

Brando, who then got the Academy Award.  In Frank’s mind that should have been him

holding up the little statue on award night. Instead the glory all went to Brando. And here he

is again. A non-singing, non-dancing nobody taking the role that rightfully belongs to Frank.

To get Brando into some sort of believable shape they give him singing and dance lessons.

This greatly annoys Frank because he doesn’t need any of that crap. The frustration builds

up in Frank’s mind until he acts the only way Frank knows.

Off-set Brando likes riding his motorbike. A big, heavy thing that makes him look even

cooler than he already is. But on one of these off-set rides Brando is accosted, pulled off his

bike and bundled into a van by three maybe four guys. In the back of the van he’s threatened

and intimidated. Later he said that he thought he was going to be killed; such was the

intensity of the abduction. But in the end, they let him go. Yet, a shocked and stunned Brando

has no doubt who was behind the abduction.

Back on set, Brando and Frank, have lots of dialogue. Frank likes to do everything in one

take, no more than two. But Brando is a Method Actor and he’ll take his time. Twenty, thirty

or more takes is normal for him. And so in every scene with Frank Brando draws it out,

wanting take after take until Frank can’t take anymore! It’s a dish delivered cold but it got

Frank so hot under the collar that he nearly quit. He didn’t, but Brando had the last say and

despite his obvious deficiencies, he was the star of the film.

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