Directed by Richard Benjamin
Written by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo
Starring Peter O’Toole, Mark Lin-Baker, Jessica Harper, Joseph Bologna, Lainie Kazan
Live television was a new and exciting form of entertainment in the 50s, and the pressure and fun of putting on a show every week has rarely been shown on film. My Favorite Year is a loving portrait of early television.
It shows Benjy Stone (Mark Lin-Baker), an intern on The King Kaiser Show.* When the show books swashbuckling movie star Allan Swann (Peter O’Toole), they are faced with a problem: Swann is a heavy drinker** and Benjy promises to Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) that he’ll keep him sober. Naturally, the two men bond and, of course, disaster ensues.
O’Toole is magnificent as the larger-than-life Swann. His declaration “I am not an actor! I’m a movie star!” should be on anyone’s list of great movie quotes.*** He got an Oscar nomination for this, but, of course, didn’t win. Mark Lin-Baker is also fine as the starry-eyed but serious Benjy.
The film also captured the feel of doing a live show every week. Mel Brooks, who helped produced, was a writer for Your Show of Shows, and Swann is based on Errol Flynn, who was a guest. Several others involved with the show were also in the cast of the movie, notably Selma Diamond.
Director Richard Benjamin was best known for his acting roles and this was his first theatrical film. Alas, his career never took off, and most of his credits were flops and critical disappointments.
*A pastiche of the great Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar.
**As was O’Toole, who managed to function and Sid Caesar, who, sadly could not.
***As his reply to the ladies room attendant when he stumbles in and is told, “This is for ladies only”: “So is this ma’am, but every now and again I have to run a little water thought it.”