My Favorite Year (1982)
Saturday, July 27th
Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is the freshman writer for the Comedy Cavalcade, a weekly live television comedy sketch program which stars Stan “King” Kaiser (Joseph Bologna). The neurotic, hot-tempered, King Kaiser heads one of the most popular shows on television and his crazy neurosis keep his staff on their toes. Added to his stress are threats from a local mob boss who is less than impressed with the comedic impersonation Kaiser portrays on the show. This week the program will feature special guest Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole), an Errol Flynn-esque actor from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Rather than being his swashbuckling self, Swann has filled his life with alcohol and women.
Benjy is given the job of babysitting his hero, but he often finds himself involved in the antics. In between alcohol induced escapades, Benjy begins to see the cracks in his hero and learns about the human side of his favorite movie star. Swann himself realizes that people allow him to get away with too much and he has been able to escape much responsibility in his life with little more than a slap on the wrist.
The age of television had arrived in the 1950’s, and the most popular programs were the live comedy sketch shows. “Comedy was king,” and Hollywood’s Golden Age was passing and many of the famous movie stars at the time were beginning to fade and lose their luster. Comedians on television were the stars now and the weekly variety shows were their most popular offering. TV allowed people to see the movie stars in their homes shrunk down to a small screen. However, as we see with Swann, live TV offered its challenges as well. Stars now needed to get it right in one take, when they were used to multiple takes to make them look good. Mel Brooks, executive producer of the film, based the premise of the film on his experiences as a writer on Sid Caesar’s variety program, Your Show of Shows. Errol Flynn would appear on Your Show of Shows. Unlike the film, Flynn’s guest appearance would be uneventful.
Though Flynn’s appearance was uneventful, he was used as the inspiration for the Alan Swann character. O’Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Swann. He insisted on performing his own stunts. What made the swashbuckling actors like Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks larger than life was daring adventurous nature. They would perform their own stunts, and audiences loved it.
Images from: My Favorite Year Dir. Richard Benjamin. MGM, 1982. DVD.