This is the twenty-ninth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
MOVIE LEGEND: Robert Altman’s then fourteen year old son, Mike Altman, more than quadrupled his father’s salary for directing the film MASH by writing the lyrics to “Suicide is Painless.”
STATUS: I’m Going With True
1970′s hit film MASH was a big break for director Robert Altman, who, at that point, was mostly known for directing television shows.
After the success of the film, he went on to become one of the most acclaimed directors of his generation, garnering five Academy Award nominations for Best Director over a career that lasted into the 21st Century.
However much Altman owed the film for his future success as a director, in strictly financial terms, the film was not a major windfall for Altman. Heck, that was almost certainly a major factor in him getting the job – that he was cheaper than a “name” director. So for the film he made $70,000, which was good money, of course, but noticeably less than what a major director would net for a film.
However, the Altman FAMILY made out pretty darn well.
You see, the great film composer Johnny Mandel did the music for the film, MASH.
When one of the characters in the film decides to commit suicide, his friends hold a suicide intervention (of sorts) where one of the characters (a Private) sings a song about suicide.
Mandel wrote the melody, but Altman turned to his fourteen year old son, Mike, for the lyrics. Perhaps Altman wanted a song that sounded like a bunch of young soldiers could write it? I don’t know what his reasons were exactly, but anyhow, the song was called “Suicide is Painless,” and it includes the memorable lines…
Suicide is painless,
It brings on many changes,
And I can take or leave it if I please
The song was pretty clearly catchy, so another version was done for the opening theme of the film, sung by a bunch of uncredited singers.
The song was popular upon the release of the film…
And the instrumental version of the song was used for all eleven seasons of the popular television adaptation of the film, M*A*S*H…
So as you might imagine, with the amount of time that the song has been played over the years (over 53 different MP3s available of the song on Amazon!!!), the younger Altman did pretty darn well.
His father spoke of exactly HOW well during an appearance on The Tonight Show during the 1980s when he stated that his son had already made a MILLION dollars off of the tune!
I think that that is very believable (just the TV series usage alone had to rake in a considerable fee), and also pretty darn cool.
MOVIE LEGEND: David Mamet’s first work writing for films was in Garage Girls, Who Stole My Wheels?
David Mamet is one of the most acclaimed American playwrights of the last fifty years…
His work on the stage during the 1970s expanded into the world of movies by the beginning of the next decade, and he has had great success in the film industry, being nominated for two Academy Awards for screenwriting (and many of his plays have been adapted to the screen, most notably Glengarry Glen Ross).
He has had a longtime working relationship with a number of actors from his days in Chicago, with William H. Macy and Joe Mantegna being two of the most notable actors associated with Mamet.
Here’s Mamet with Mantegna and a third friend of theirs, Jack Wallace…
It was on a Mantegna movie that Mamet got his first film experience, although it wasn’t much of an experience.
In a great interview with The Onion AV Club, Mantegna discussed one of his earliest films, a cheesy low budget film from 1978 called (among many titles), Garage Girls, Who Stole My Wheels? (described on IMDB as “An unscrupulous towing company picks up perfectly fine cars and impounds them. It’s up to two bar maids to try and stop them”)….
Joe Mantegna: We suggested—because the script was constantly being revised and changed—that this up-and-coming young writer we knew named David Mamet might come in and write a couple of scenes for the movie. And I think he tentatively did write a scene, and it was rejected.
Nathan Rabin: Wow.
Mantegna: It was like “Nah, nah, this isn’t going to fly, this isn’t going to fit in this movie.” It was like, “Okay! We just thought we’d suggest this guy.”
Rabin: It’s crazy to think of Mamet in that context.
Mantegna: Yeah, that was one of Dave’s first rejections as a script doctor. So he never made it into Who Stole My Wheels?, but I think he might’ve made a couple hundred dollars.
Rabin: And never recovered from that setback.
Mantegna: Yeah, well, it might’ve spurred him onto other things.
Maybe instead of Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet could have had a career writing stuff like Earth Girls Are Easy?
Thanks to Mantegna and Rabin for the info!
MOVIE LEGEND: Lalo Schifrin re-used his rejected score for The Exorcist for The Amityville Horror.
Lalo Schifrin was the original composer for the score to 1973′s The Exorcist…
However, when his music for the film’s initial trailer were deemed too scary (mostly that it was too discordent), he was asked to tone down the music. Well, at least the studio THOUGHT they were telling him when they asked the director of the film, William Friedkin, to relay the message.
Friedkin hated the score, though, so he instead just fired Schifrin.
The Exorcist ended up using a variety of songs, notably including Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” which had just been released the previous eyar.
Five years later, Schifrin did the score to the hit horror film, The Amityville Horror…
Since the release of The Amityville Horror, people have been asking/presuming that Schifrin re-used his rejected score for The Exorcist for Amityville.
Heck, here’s a great YouTube video with Schifrin’s Amityville score and a scene from Exorcist…
It certainly DOES fit.
However, not only did Schifrin reject these rumors over the years, but in 1998, the rumors were finally totally put to rest when the 25th Anniversary of The Exorcist was re-released in a VHS box set.
In the box set, Schifrin’s original score is used, and while it certainly appears as if he was inspired by his original score for Amityville, it is quite plainly NOT a matter of him re-using the score from the one film for the latter, and even the similar aspects are only on a few of the songs for the film, not the whole score.
Hopefully some day that version of The Exorcist will come out on DVD!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org