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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NOW, THAT'S FUNNY: Animal Edition

Gloria Grahame and an elephant friend in The Greatest Show on Earth.

Cecil B. DeMille was a great animal lover. With a deep appreciation for mother nature and all of its inhabitants, it is no wonder that he filled so many of his films with a hodgepodge of creatures. Whether feeding the deer at his beloved "Paradise" or marveling at the beauty and surprising elegance of the elephants in The Sign of the Cross and The Greatest Show on Earth, CB was always in touch with his "wild" side. However, not everyone had the great adoration for animals that Cecil did, which has inspired the following humorous human vs. animal tales:

Male and Female was all about nature: human nature at is most animalistic and survivalistic, (with a little sex, of course). For this reason, when it came time to shoot his lavish fantasy sequence with Thomas Meighan (right) and Gloria Swanson, DeMille was determined to make things as natural and authentic as possible. One scene required the imagined King (Thomas) to subjugate the femme fatale (Gloria). To accentuate this act, DeMille wanted to use a large cat to imply Tom's great and brutal machismo, i.e: He wanted a live leopard slung over Tom's shoulder. (Pause for Tom's gulp). Meighan was not exactly ecstatic about this idea, especially as he watched the animal handlers unsuccessfully trying to knock the cat out with chloroform in order to make such a stunt possible. After witnessing the enormous cat hiss and growl for some time, the pacing inside its cage suddenly stopped. (Did I mention that the animal had been scheduled for extermination because it had already killed a man? CB chose to let it live and sick it on his actor instead). Shaking, with beads of sweat running down his temples, Tom obligingly slung the cat over his shoulder and went through his scene. However, before he was through with his actions, he felt the leopard stirring. Certain that he was about to be maimed, it took every ounce of control for him to get through the next few seconds without dropping the leopard and high-tailing it out of there! However, he pulled through. When he communicated his fears to DeMille he received little sympathy. In his own macho way, DeMille surely responded with something akin to, "What's the big deal? Are you a man or a mouse?!"

Gloria and a dangerous prop: the jury is still out on who is 
truly the more dangerous...

Gloria Swanson was also on the receiving end of CB's outlandish animal requests. For her part in the film, she was to enter the lion's den. Literally. Cecil was intent on getting a shot of her lying on the ground with a lion's paw on her back. Gloria's eyes bulged but she was a tough cookie, plus CB indulged in a little bribery to get her to cooperate. Thus, Gloria found herself on her stomach with nothing separating her from the dangerous beast but a piece of canvas. When the lion roared, she would later recall feeling its vibrations through every inch of her body. Yet, she remained cool as a cucumber and believably dead. After the quick shot, Gloria arose with dignity and suddenly found herself in tears, the stress of the situation finally coming to the surface. CB was proud of his "young fellow," finding her more manly than her male co-star, Thomas. He kidded her with a, "Thank goodness. At last a woman!" To repay her, he offered her a choice from his famous bag of gems: Gloria proudly selected a gold evening bag with an emerald clasp. Her pain had been worth every penny.

Claudette Colbert (left) was another favorite leading lady of DeMille's, even if he found her to be overly diva-ish at times. At the end of the day, she got the job done and took direction well. CB hoped to use her good qualities to overcome the bad  when it came time to shoot her death scene in Cleopatra. The old legend had it, of course, that the Egyptian Queen died by holding an asp to her breast, letting its fangs infect her with venom. Sultry and sexy, Claudette was; reptile friendly, she was not. For this reason, CB knew he would have to concoct some sort of plan to get her to actually hold the snake in her hands. So, he brought in the largest king snake that he could find. When Claudette saw it, she had the appropriate reaction. Panicking, she refused! "No, no! I won't do it!! Please, no!" With that, Cecil shrugged and pulled out a much tinier snake-- the one he had actually intended to use for the scene. Claudette's fear dissolved as she observed her slender partner: "Why, he's just a baby!" No longer afraid, and feeling a bit maternal toward the little guy, Claudette was ready for her close-up. Her performance went off with out a hitch, and once again, DeMille got his way.

Mabel Normand also had an encounter with a rather large feline when filming her big comedy hit The Extra Girl (right). One of the most hilarious sequences of the film is when Mabel's wannabe movie starlet is stalked behind the scenes by an escaped Lion. On camera, her facial expressions and prat falls in avoiding the large beast are hilarious... Behind the scenes, things weren't quite as funny. Certainly, Mabel was a little apprehensive about leading the large lion around on a leash-- a gag used to get laughs, due to the fact that Mabel's character thought she was walking a dog. Being a what-the-hell kind of gal, Mabel went for it anyway. She was assured that her safety was being looked after by director F. Richard Jones, whose feeble attempt at protection was having a pitchfork at the ready. Unfortunately, at one point, Jones accidentally tripped and scared the lion, who sprang into the air. Mabel, stunned, fell flat to the ground, only to find the pitchfork in her own rear end! The lion, on the other hand, was unharmed.

One of the most popular animals in movie history, aside from dogs and horses, is perhaps the monkey. Many celebs have had a little face time with a chimp-- such as Lon Chaney in West of Zanzibar or Cary Grant in, of course, Monkey Business. As always, it's not all fun and games, as Kathryn Grayson (left) could attest. While shooting on Show Boat, the lovely soprano was surprised when a primate got a little primeval on her. One day, a marmoset monkey got a little antsy and, out of fear, started attacking everyone in sight. After it bit both its trainer and a prop man, Kathryn too had a piece taken out of her arm! Her squeal probably surpassed any high notes she had previously sung. Co-star Ava Gardner got the worst of it when the monkey scratched her breast in the middle of a publicity photo. So much for looking sexy!

Veronica Lake too had an ill-fated meeting with a monkey. While working on Sullivan's Travels (w/ Joel McCrea, right), her set was next-door to a Dorothy Lamour picture, which was currently employing a monkey named "Jiggs." Adorned in her tramp wardrobe, Veronica sat relaxing in between scenes when she felt something grab her hand. Jiggs had appeared out of nowhere and nonchalantly proceeded to put Ronni's hand in his mouth and bite-- not hard, but hard enough! Veronica froze, uncertain what to do and afraid of angering the precocious  creature. Preston Sturges saw the happenings, and after getting a good kick out of her plight, found the monkey's trainer who relieved the pregnant Veronica from her unease. The trainer assured her that, despite her discomfort, Jiggs had simply been showing her that he liked her. This was supposedly a miracle, since Jiggs didn't take to women-- a fact that the constantly scratched and bitten Dorothy Lamour could easily attest to. 

Carl Switzer (left) would often come into contact with animals during the filming of the Our Gang series. Take accident-prone children and throw in some quadrupeds and you've got yourself a pretty good shot at comedy. However, there was a mammalian charade that did not end humorously. One production had it scripted that little Carl was to be bitten by a bear. The actual animal was brought in, but Carl refused to even get close to it. The director asked him to inch his face in to the bear's mouth, but Carl simply shook his head in nervous protest. The trainer then stepped in to offer his help. Assuring Carl that the animal was harmless and actually quite gentle, he demonstrated the director's instructions by moving his face toward the bear's mouth. Now, this ISN'T funny. The bear suddenly made an out of character move and sank his jaws onto his trainer's face, biting his cheek right off. I guess sometimes kids are smarter than adults...

Bruce Willis finally meets his match.

To end, there is a contemporary story worth chuckling over. Tony Scott was excited to be working with the famous and charismatic action hero Bruce Willis on his 1991 film The Last Boy Scout. However, after a great start, he was a little perturbed when Bruce arrived to work several hours late their second day of shooting. When Tony pressed him for a reason, Bruce comically had to relay an embarrassing story. It turned out that the cleaning crew had left his trailer door open the night before and a cat got in. Curious as cats tend to be, this one located Bruce's cherished hair piece hanging on the wall and got a little... frisky. Thus, Bruce explained, he was late because the cat had been humping his hairpiece. After all, a leading man needs his hair. Me-ow.


  1. Wonderful. Congratulations for the post.
    Drop by my blog. Leave comments, become a follower. I'll be happy.
    Hugs. Thanks.

  2. Leave it to Meredith to remember Dick Jones and Mabel! Thanks so much for a wonderful post

  3. Hahaha, thanks Billy. I knew you'd love that tid bit. ;)