Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 19
Butterfield 8 November 4, 1960
Butterfield 8 opens

For all the acrimony and anger created by its production, Butterfield 8, Daniel Mann’s adaptation of John O’Hara’s 1935 novel about a part-time prostitute (played by Elizabeth Taylor), should have been a catastrophe. Even the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther though so: “By the odds, it should be a bomb. But a bomb it is not, let us tell you. At least, it is not the sort of thing to set you to yawning and squirming, unless Elizabeth Taylor leaves you cold.” O’Hara’s novel was based on the true-life misadventures of Starr Faithfull, a beautiful young woman who was found dead in Long Beach, Long Island in 1931. While too risqué to adapt for years, MGM decided to push it into production in 1959 while Taylor was still under contract with the Studio. But Taylor, who was looking forward to starring in the big-budget production of Cleopatra, wanted nothing to do with this story. “I hate the girl I play,” Taylor declared publicly. “I don’t like what she stands for––the men, the sleeping around.” Next she went after the story, exclaiming that “it’s the most pornographic script I’ve ever read,” an insult novelist John O’Hara humorously greeted in print with the declaration, "The cracks Miss Taylor has taken at my novel gave me some bruises which were healed by the MGM accounting department with their tender, loving royalty checks." In the end, Taylor’s taunts may have actually helped the film by giving it the appropriate aura of scandal. The film’s $2.5 million budget brought in $9 million domestically, and, best of all, Taylor won her first Oscar after being nominated (and losing) the three previous years for Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Raintree County (1957).


More Flashbacks
December 19, 1977
Jacques Tourneur dies

On this day in 1977, the film world lost of the most creative directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Jacques Tourneur passed away in Bergerac, a town in the south west of France.

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December 19, 1979
Being There, Sellers' Last Chance

According to director Hal Ashby, the editing of Being There was only finally finished at around 4 a.m. on the first day of its limited Oscar qualifying run, 29 years ago today, and Ashby himself delivered the film to the theatre by hand. The painstaking approach Ashby took with the film, however, translated into rapturous reviews and turned Being There into a financial as well as critical success. The movie was a long-gestating project that Ashby and the film’s star, Peter Sellers, had been planning since 1973 when the Pink Panther star had first shared with Ashby his love of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel about a idiot savant gardener who unintentionally becomes a political heavyweight. Sellers, who was initially seen as too broad a comic actor to play this subtle a role, excelled as Chauncey Gardiner (aka Chance the gardener), the childlike man whose simplistic comments are misinterpreted as ingenious political rhetoric, and garnered the very best reviews of his career and a Best Actor Oscar nod in the process. The film proved the most fitting of swan songs as Sellers died of a heart attack just six months after the film’s release. Being There has since become a classic, not least because of its incisive and gently scornful satire of the American political establishment: during the 1980 election, candidates Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter both tried to paint their opponent as being “like Chauncey Gardiner,” and over the course of the presidency of George W. Bush, numerous comparisons were made between the intelligence of commander in chief and Sellers’ simple-minded comic hero.

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