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Tue, Jun 14, 2005

Don't Call Me Shirley

Hollywood's Best-Ever Aviation Spoof Turns 25

Towergy: Captain, look at this!
MCrosky: Passengers certain to die!
Kramer : Airline negligent.
Johnny : There's a sale at Penny's!

It's the kind of dialogue you'll hear in the cockpit even now -- 25 years after it was first heard in the aviation spoof, "Airplane!"

That's right. Billed by the American Film Society as one of the ten funniest movies ever made, "Airplane!" is now a quarter-century old. And we're still laughing.

Striker: Surely you can't be serious?
Rumack : I am serious, and don't call me Shirley!

The movie, written in the all-too-serious 1970s, debuted in 1980, ripping contemporary disaster movies like "Jaws" and "Airport."

Attndnt: Excuse me sir, there's been a little problem in the cockpit . . .
Striker: The cockpit . . . what is it?
Attndnt: Its the little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that's not important now.

The writing was manic, but producer/writer/director Jerry Zucker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel it was the actors who really made the movie work.

"You could have cast funny people and done it with everybody winking, goofing off and silly. But the whole point was (the) serious style. We wanted people to be oblivious to the comedy. The actors understood 'in varying degrees,' Zucker said.

For instance, he said, Robert Stack, who played the hard-bitten chief pilot, Captain Kramer, "got that we were using his image," Zucker told the Journal. In the movie, Capt. Kramer had to talk down a former fighter pilot struggling to save an endangered jetliner.

Kramer : I know this guy.
Paul : You do? Who is it?
Kramer : Name is Ted Striker, I flew with him during the war, it won't make my job any easier tonight. Ted Striker was a crack flight leader, up to a point. He was one of those men who, lets say, felt to much inside, maybe you know the kind. Went all to pieces on one particular mission, lets just hope that doesn't happen tonight.
Striker: Lets see
. Altitude, 24,000 feet... level flight, speed 520 knots. Course, 0-9er-0, trim, mixture, wash, rinse, spin . . .

Leslie Nielsen, who went on to make comedy a way of life, was like "a fish in water." But Bridges, who played an air traffic controller with a few addiction issues, kept trying to "shtick it up." When Bridges questioned a line of a dialogue, Stack told him, " 'There's a spear going through the wall behind you, and there's a watermelon falling behind me. No one's paying any attention to us,' " Zucker said.

MCrosky: It sure is quiet out there. . .
Kramer : Yeah, too quiet.
MCrosky: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue
. ( inhales some glue and falls over)

Co-director/writer/producer Jim Abrahams and his mother will be honored Wednesday by Jewish Family Services in Milwaukee for their philanthropic efforts in that community. The festivities will include a showing of "Airplane!" A red-carpet screening of the film is scheduled for Thursday at Milwaukee's Pabts Theater.

Rumack : I just want to tell you both good luck, we're all counting on you.



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