Behind The Scenes With The Writers Of The New Walt Disney Animated Feature Helen Keller

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WRITER #1: When the Disney execs came to us with the Helen Keller idea, we thought it was amazing. But we had to give her story a universal appeal. You know, in a broader way.

WRITER #2: Right. The deaf and blind thing was good, but we needed something else; something everyone could identify with, so we took the liberty of making her father a firefighter who dies while battling a blaze at an orphanage.

WRITER #1: The ‘ol Disney formula: dead parent = instant drama.

WRITER #2: Yep. And it’s used especially well here because it’s the first news Helen gets from her teacher when they are finally able to communicate: “Your dad died.”

WRITER #1: The look on young Helen’s face is beyond tragic. “What? I learned tactile sign language so you could tell me THIS?”

WRITER #2: The audience has no choice but to be on Helen’s side.

WRITER #1: Right. But, only through hardship comes heroism, honor, glory.

WRITER #2: With the right amounts of levity and comedy along the way, of course. The scene with Helen rolling in the grass with the seven kittens is a wonderful tension-reliever.

WRITER #1: Yeah. The brooding kitten is a little reluctant to romp until he sees how sad Helen is. Then, even he’s won over by her amazing courage!

WRITER #2: Right. And, (spoiler alert!) Helen Keller regains her ability to see at the end of the movie!

WRITER #1: Of course. The happy ending; nothing like it. But remember: she only regains her sight because she discovered love: TRUE love.

WRITER #2: Exactly. Her teacher wants her to change. Her mother wants her to change. But Zachariah, the barn boy, likes her just the way she is.

WRITER #1: Which is why I find the soundtrack especially effective.

WRITER #2: No doubt. The song, “I Can Feel You (Because I Can’t See You or Hear You)” is an instant classic.

WRITER #1: And the addition of the fairy who talks into Helen’s ear and can hear her thoughts was a stroke of genius. I believe that was your idea.

WRITER #2: Thanks. Without the fairy, Helen Keller would be just groaning for half an hour in the beginning of the film and no one would know why. Well, beyond the obvious, of course.

WRITER #1: The fairy tells us EXACTLY why she’s doing it.

WRITER #2: “What’s that, Helen? It’s your shoes? Your shoes are too tight because your feet have grown, but no one knows because you can’t talk?”

WRITER #1: “And your teacher smacks you when no one’s looking?”

WRITER #2: We had to take that part out.

WRITER #1: The abusive teacher? Oh, right.

WRITER #2: Too dark.

WRITER #1: Yep. So that’s pretty much it: Helen Keller! In Theatres This Summer! And if Helen herself was alive today — and could see and hear — I think she’d just love what we’ve done with her story!

WRITER #2: Wait, you mean Helen Keller was REAL?

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The Gloom Stays in the Picture
(From The Blockbuster Tell-All Memoir Of Sweden’s Movie King)

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“Quiet on the set!”

It was Alf F. Sjöberg, head-honcho both at M.G.M. (Malmö-Göteberg-Morose) and Inhibited Artists, laying down the law on the sound-stage of his big 1950 Christmas release, It’s A Miserable Life.

I was just a kid then, with high hopes and stars in my eyes — lucky enough to have landed the role of “The Dancing Kleptomaniac” via the influence of my latest leading-lady and bed-mate, a buxom redhead called Anna Olsen. (Never heard of her? She later made quite a name for herself — first in Hollywood as Ann-Margaret, then in Japan as the baseball slugging-sensation, Sadaharu Oh.)

I hadn’t made too many friends, working on the flick, for novice that I was, I had my own ideas about Scandinavian cinema. For example, many in the cast felt that, because Miserable was a Christmas picture, some of its more somber elements might be expunged: that the George Bailey character (played by Jimmy Stewart in the story’s Hollywood version) need not commit suicide at the film’s conclusion, nor need his wife Mary be burnt at the stake; and it was also felt that the gruesome crucifixion of the angel Clarence would do little to contribute to the picture’s Yuletide appeal.

I disagreed with these views, feeling they did not represent the tradition of Swedish film as we knew it. Would a Victor F. Sjöstrom, I asked, a Mauritz F. Stiller, a Carl F. Dreyer or an Alf F. Sjöberg himself produce a picture that allowed cheerfulness to penetrate the overall mood of despair? I thought not…and now, the mogul in person was here to see what was what — responding to a cast telegram threatening to move to Finland were I not immediately dismissed from the film.

Sjöberg, chomping on one of his trademark pine-bark stogies, barreled across the sound-stage and scowled. “What’s this?” he grimaced, stopping at one of the Christmas-decorated flats. “Tinsel? Who ordered all these colored lights and this fake snow?” Naturally, no one dared speak. (The last company member to answer back to the mogul had subsequently been left stranded on an ice floe.) “We’re northern Protestants here,” the man continued, shaking his head in disbelief. “What kind of spectator is going to pay to be entertained?”

Simple words…and yet it would only be years later that I fully grasped the wisdom they contained.

Bibi Anderson was a real hot number. I met her working on the set of my third picture for Worried Brothers, a little documentary on the Umförs fruit market I called, Wild Strawberries. At the time, I was still married to Bibi’s distant cousin Harriet Anderson, and living in Stockholm with Harriet and her dog, Fido (Anderson). Bibi telephoned me one afternoon to discuss her role (she played the wife of an optometrist whose clients kept seeing the Madonna) and in no time at all the two of us were thrashing about in my study as though neither had ever heard of sin and damnation (both preferable, it seemed, to divorce court.)

As usual, the home office was making noises about my next production. Some mid-level know-nothing felt this new picture should be more “existential;” another felt it should be more action-packed. Together they produced a nutty compromise script about Death himself (surprisingly, he was already a member of the Swedish Actors’ Union) stalking a depressed knight and his traveling companions across a plague-ridden, 13th-century Sweden. The catch was that each time the Grim Reaper was about to claim a victim, the dashing hero (“Christiana Jones,” they called him) would burst onto the scene with his whip and in his ranch hat to save the day. What a turkey sandwich! Perhaps the best thing about the flick was its boffo original title — Raiders of the Seventh Seal. (Of course when Hollywood later got hold of our script, they remade it entirely into the well-known adventure classic, Muppet Treasure Island.)

Flash forward ten years. By the late sixties I was living full-time on the Färoe Islands with Bibi, but cheating on her with Liv Ullmann. (No, wait a minute — I think it was the other way around: I was living full-time with Liv but cheating on her with Erland Josephson.) Brother, was I headed for trouble.

I knew many in the Scandinavian film industry relied on “controlled substances” to boost their physical stamina. I too had toyed with these, but only in a minor way. (And, like anyone else in Sweden, I also celebrated National Day by running up the old flag then snorting a line of pure Svealand iron ore.) Yet I was no match for the seductive powers of that white paste that began circulating among the glitterati of the early 70’s: it gave you the strength to turn into an eight-hour television marathon a script perhaps fit for no more than a half-hour soap-opera. (Otherwise, the critics liked my Scenes From a Marriage, but felt that it didn’t contain enough robots.) Cocaine, speed, angel dust — none could compare in potency with our own peninsular product. I mean, of course — the lutefisk.

Signs of my dependency had already shown themselves earlier in my career. I put on weight and, like other addicts, never went out without my butter knife, lemon juice and packets of Wäsa crispbread. (Lutefisk junkies could usually be identified by the permanent sprinkling of breadcrumbs visible down their shirtfronts.) The stuff all but eradicated your inhibitions– — witness the night in 1972 when I tried to copulate with all four members of the singing-group, ABBA, simultaneously.

My run-in with the law came about due to a phone-call from my brother Morris.

“You want me to pick-up a suit-case for you in room 313 of the Adlon Hotel?” I asked Morrie from my end. “I don’t understand.”

“Brother,” said Morris. “I’ve got a pal bringing in a load of watches from Switzerland, and I need an unknown face to courier it.”

“Me, an unknown face?” I asked the man incredulously. “Are you joking?”

“Ingie,” he replied. “You’re not thinking. Sure, you’re our great national film director — but the cops aren’t interested in that. I’m the one with the rap sheet longer than a treatment by Tarkovsky.”

It was true, my brother had already been prominently featured in a number of very public financial scandals — the last involving millions received from the Stockholm government for a “Swedish Space-Program,” and Morrie’s construction of the world’s tallest ski-jump.

“Besides,” added my brother. “After your latest art-house flop, I doubt your face is still known in this country to more than a few dozen eggheads and nymphomaniacs…”

“Thanks bro’.” I knew I could always count on my elder sibling for a healthy ego-boost.

To make a long story short, I went to the Adlon Hotel to pick up Morrie’s “watches.” I should have been suspicious of the fact that, when I got hold of it, the suitcase seemed to be leaking a viscous, fishy-smelling liquid; also, by the fact that wherever I went with the thing, about two-dozen stray cats followed in its wake. Even before I could board the get-away tram (not a car, because in Sweden even crime is socially responsible), the Royal Foodstuffs and Narcotics Squad had nabbed me. Since I was a first offender (the magistrate didn’t count Hour of the Wolf), I got just six months in Halmstad Minimum Security.

It made a body think to be in lock-up: All the world’s a stage…Art holds a mirror up to Nature…What kind of spectator is going to pay to be entertained? I think I finally learnt the lesson of Alf F. Sjoberg, all those years ago: life goes on — and oy, the gloom stays in the picture!

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New To The Internet, My Uncle Francis Naively Responds To Spam Comments Left On His Blog, “Frank Talk”

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Girish (erotic1mods@gmail.com): This post is awesome. I’m impressed by your style — experienced blogger, huh? Added your blog to my favs.

Hello Girish, thank you for your kind words! Hmm, “Girish” — is that Scottish, perchance? If so, let’s just say you’ve put my mood in the highlands! (Lol!) To answer your question: No, I am not an experienced blogger, but it’s very nice of you to ask. I’m also honored to hear that you’ve added my site to your “favs” (short for “favorites,” I assume, and not something weird like “fava beans” — not that fava beans would make sense in this context, of course, but you never know with some people!). Perhaps you can send me a link to this list of favs, since naturally I’m eager to see what other high-minded online venues I’ll be rubbing virtual elbows with! One question before I leave you: Where did you come up with your email address? It’s very chic, though slightly provocative, I must admit.

sohbet: Yeah, but never the less, I think this post is debatable.

Well sohbet, to quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her summation of Voltairian attitude toward free speech, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (You understand I don’t mean that literally, of course — I’ve never even met you! — but hopefully you get the idea.) You see sohbet, my whole motivation for creating Frank Talk was to allow friends and family to comment openly and, well, frankly (wink wink!) on any topic they wished, without fear of judgment or reprisal. Thus, while you may very well refuse to accept my declaration that, in real life, Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls is actually one year older than Estelle Getty — God rest her soul — who played her mother on the show, I think you’ll find that the “Wicked Pedia” (haha!) will back me up.

Also, you know what’s funny? Your “handle” (that’s what they called ’em in my CB radio days — a “handle”) sounds like someone trying to say “sorbet” while biting their tongue! Who are your parents, ith cleam and fozen yoguht?!?

Seriously though, thanks for reading.

butt head: Do you fairly think this is news? I like and read your blog to get necessary information, but sometimes melancholy kills me.

I’m sorry Mr., err, head, but I just have to ask: butt head? Is that really the name you’ve chosen to represent yourself here on Frank Talk? Honest to goodness? Because I’d feel terrible if that was merely a typo on your part and here I was insulting you by calling you a “butt head,” when really you’re just a “mutt head” (dog lover) or “butter head” (blonde haired) or some such silliness. I think, to be safe, I better call you Winslow. So Winslow, to answer your question, yes, I “fairly think this is news.” Heck, it should go without typing 😉 that I fairly think anything posted on Frank Talk is news! I’d be curious to hear what you have against a second Facts of Life reunion special though. Seems like a no-brainer to me!

P.S. I’m sorry to hear about your evident battle with depression. Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I like to make some chamomile tea, throw on a Randy Newman record or three, and just relax with my Sudoku. You never know — maybe that will work for you, too. (And if it does, I think you know where you can come to talk about it!*)

*You can come to Frank Talk, if that wasn’t clear.

Cellulite therapy: Check out the cellulite remedies on this site.

I have to say, “Cellulite therapy,” that — although I appreciate your patronage — your recommendation that I “check out the cellulite remedies” on a certain website is a little out of place here on Frank Talk. First of all, I think some of my readers might take offense at the implications behind your comment — my sister Daphne, for one. I admit she’s had some success with her new RAW diet, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how repeatedly watching Eddie Murphy perform stand-up in a ridiculous leather suit can make someone lose weight. Anyhow, to get back to your comment, it shouldn’t really be news any more that those of us in the so-called bloggocircle (Is that the correct term? My nephew just taught it to me.) are prone to slightly heavier figures than our peers, given our natural passion for improving the world by commenting on it for hours on end while sitting in front of our computers eating Hostess Cup Cakes. To insinuate that we need a remedy for the battle scars (a.k.a., cellulite) we proudly bear from our keyboard war on depravity is not only thoughtless; it’s flat out rude.

Plus, the link to the website you’ve provided doesn’t even mention how you need to let the coffee grounds cool down before rubbing them into your skin. Do you know how hard it’s been having to blog standing up all week?

Shanda Dudley: duskish scandalmongering incremate presbytia rudderstock naphtha synchronizable rhine

Shanda, as the first person in my family to finish the unabridged version of Dr. Doolittle, I pride myself on being an educated man. However, I have to admit: your comment had me reaching for the dictionary more than once! Now, I’m not exactly sure how the spreading of darkly colored rumors might reduce the poor-sighted vertical member at the forward edge of a boat’s rudder to ashes, or how a colorless, volatile petroleum distillate might be coordinated in time with one of the most important rivers in Europe, but that’s not really the question here, is it? No, the question here is: Did you know your name is Yiddish for “shame” or “scandal”? Your parents must have had a weird sense of humor. Then again, I’m named for a Saint, and I think Susan Dunklemeyer, who sat in front of me in 7th grade study hall, would back me up when I say that I’m no saint! (Suzy, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry about your brother. But seven hamsters? What was he thinking!)

Penis Enlargement (sine@sinemale.com): Speech on the health of the male organ, exercises, male enlargement pills, anatomy of the woman, informations on sex, positions, health and much more. Visit: http://www.sinemale.com

I’m sorry Pe — uhh, Mr. Englargement, but you know the rules: Any gratuitous anatomical references in the Frank Talk forums must result in an immediate, automatic, and irreversible suspension from the site. Furthermore, I’m afraid I’m going to have to confiscate your speech too, so if you could go ahead and email that to me at your earliest convenience, we can end this unpleasantness as soon as possible. Also, if your speech has any photos or illustrations in it, you should probably highlight those pages in the table of contents, too.

God I’m lonely.

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How To Reject The Marriage Proposal From The Female Leprechaun Living In Your Washing Machine

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How else did you think leprechauns reproduce? The particulars aren’t important. Right now, you need to get yourself out of this marriage proposal before you have little lucky charms running all over your house. Do you have access to a high-powered meat slicer at all? Damn. What about a kayak? Hell. A panda? Well then, looks like we got some work to do.

Yes, it is a big deal. Have you ever spoken to this leprechaun? Well then how do you know she proposed to you? Oh, okay. That’s actually kind of romantic — if you like Jell-O.

Don’t even tell me you’re considering accepting. I know you’re forty, and I know you haven’t had a date in two years, but c’mon man. A leprechaun? I mean, sure, at least it’s not a centaur or a troll, but have some standards. If you’re into short, pale, red-haired women then I’ll introduce you to my co-worker, Pat. At least she’s human.

Let me explain something to you. You have two choices. One, accept the proposal. Two, refuse the proposal. I can see that you’re leaning toward option one, but let me warn you of something. According to the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, any human, and all descendants of said human, who marries a leprechaun will be permanently ineligible from receiving a pot of gold, should said human or any descendant of said human, ever reach the end of a rainbow. It doesn’t matter how I know that, just be glad I do. Wouldn’t you feel awful if your child found the end of the rainbow? If that’s not enough to deter you, let me say this one word to you: snoring.

In order to guard their treasure while sleeping, leprechauns developed a snoring pattern capable of warding off any intruders. Imagine a steam locomotive rumbling down the tracks carrying a crib of crying babies and a kennel of yapping Chihuahuas, and dragging a chalkboard along the rails. Are we ready to refuse that proposal yet?

Good. She’s gained the upper hand, so you’re going to have to give her something to make up for your refusal. Oh, you think she can’t cause any trouble? She lives in your washing machine. You know what some strategically placed bleach would do to your jeans?

Stop freaking out. Wow, you have a leprechaun living in your washing machine that loves you. Dude, you know Tim? His wife just left him for a land gnome. Things could be worse. I know you said you didn’t have access to a high-powered meat slicer, but can you get your hands on a Zamboni machine? Damn, you’d really be in trouble without me around. All right, time to pull out all the stops.

You have to find her another soul mate. What are you, crazy? I’m happily married. I guess you can ask Tim, but I was thinking more along the lines of another leprechaun. You’ve never kidnapped a leprechaun? Not even in the boy scouts?

The best place to find a leprechaun is at church. Yeah, actually they’re very religious. Next time you go to church, bring a mousetrap, a chunk of provolone cheese, and a vacuum cleaner. Wear a janitor’s shirt and put a bunch of keys on your belt. No one will ask the janitor why he’s bringing a vacuum into church. Find the little mouse hole in the wall, usually it’s near the organ. Put the cheese in the trap and set in near the hole.

No, leprechauns hate cheese. You need to kill the mouse first.

Once the mouse comes out he’ll nibble on the cheese, and well, you know how a mousetrap works. Once that’s done with, turn the vacuum on and stick that long tube attachment into the hole. Wait ten minutes, turn the vacuum off and leave. You might as well take the mouse with you on your way out. After all, you are the janitor.

Once you get home, empty out the vacuum bag. Pick up the leprechaun you just kidnapped. First, make sure he’s male. No, are you crazy? Just ask what its name is. Assuming he’s male, put him inside one of your dirty socks with a clothespin on top. Wash that sock alone. Pray. Get a good night’s rest. Go open up the washing machine and see if your new leprechaun and the female have hit it off. If they’re sitting on the edge of the dryer eating soda bread and watching The Quiet Man then they’ve hit it off.

This plan is practically foolproof, but if some how you manage to screw it up, you have one option left. I didn’t want to mention it earlier because of the danger involved. It’s called the Detroit Divorce Deluxe. And if you thought refusing a marriage proposal was tricky, wait ’til you see what it takes to divorce a leprechaun.

Keep your eye open for a high-powered meat slicer. Just in case.

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