Four months after his dramatic exit from Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Productions chairman Michael Eisner finally spoke out this week on the question of Disney’s identity for the future.
The answer was: “Bongo.”
Bongo the circus bear, that is, hero of a 1930 Sinclair Lewis short story and Disney’s 1947 animated feature “Fun and Fancy Free.” Eisner likened Bongo’s journey from circus to forest with Disney’s plans for going up against the big bad wolves of Hollywood.
Eisner’s speech, before the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, was attended by many of the biggest and baddest wolves from the TV and film industries. As Eisner sarcastically noted, the event might have gone down as the most prestigious assemblage in entertainment history were it not for the conspicuous absence of executives from his former home, Paramount.
But back to the bear facts.
Eisner told how “smart and lively” Bongo (read: Disney) felt trapped in the circus (Disney’s Burbank-based animation paradise) and escaped to the forest (Hollywood). Bongo quickly found that he was wasn’t prepared for the rain and cold and couldn’t defend himself against Lumpjaw, the meanest old bear in the forest.
Bongo being Bongo, he eventually triumphs over Lumpjaw, taps the sweetest honey tree in the forest, and lives happily ever after. End of fable, time for the moral.
Disney “can no longer be content alone in Burbank, caged by its previous success,” Eisner said. “We must climb over the Santa Monica mountains to Century City.”
Bongo, he said, must “go to lunch with Lew Erlicht, breakfast with Brandon Tartikoff and dinner with Bud Grant. Bongo must ally himself with Lew Wasserman, Barry Diller and Bob Daly to protect his woods against a Tony Thomopoulos who wants a bigger share of the honey.
“Frankly,” Eisner concluded, “Bongo must go Hollywood.”
(For non-canine readers, Erlicht and Thomopoulos are top dogs at ABC, Tartikoff at NBC and Grant at CBS. Wasserman, Diller and Daly run MCA Inc., 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., respectively. All seven were present.)
Eisner’s speech has been received as both inspired allegory and metaphor run amok. One thing seems clear: If Disney’s new film slate is as corny as Eisner’s speech, it could be Bedtime for Bongo.
BARBRA BEAT: Barbra Streisand is headed to the big screen for the first time since “Yentl,” but in a small way.
Negotiations are almost concluded for a national theatrical run of Streisand’s “Emotion” video from her recent album of the same name. The 5 1/2-minute video could be playing in several hundred theaters by mid-February.
Other videos have played theaters, but none with a cast like this one. Streisand plays a frustrated wife; Roger Daltry plays her husband and Mikhail Baryshnikov appears as one of her fantasy lovers. Richard Baskin, Streisand’s frequent companion of late, directed.
As for feature film plans, Streisand’s Barwood Productions set up shop at Warner Bros. in early ’84 and has been veiled in secrecy ever since. Musical, dramatic and comedic projects are in development; most recently, Streisand is said to be close to commiting to a “socially relevant comedy about a contemporary woman and her relationships.”
Barwood President Cis Corman said that a decision on the comedy would be made soon. “We knew it would take time (to launch the company), and it has actually come much faster in general than we expected,” she added.
YUPPIE MOVIE: “Inside Adam Swit,” which quietly began filming for Tri-Star Pictures in San Diego in December, promises an inside peek at one of America’s more topical cultural phenomenons: Yuppiedom.
Ralph Sbarge plays Adam, an idealistic teen-ager grappling with his Yuppie parents, Veronica Cartwright and SCTV’s Dave Thomas. Executive producer Thom Mount promises a critical look at the young “pasta maker, BMW and Cuisinart set,” those who came of age in the ‘60s only to trade in their counter-culturisms for conspicuous consumption. Novelist Roger Simon (“The Big Fix”) is writing and directing.
The Yuppie theme offers certain casting advantages, according to Mount. For a recent cocktail party scene in the Swit home (“extraordinarily bleak and hi-tech, a 1930s cruise ship gone wrong”), several Hollywood agent and writer types visiting the set were drafted as extras. “This is a movie about us,” says Mount, “so it’s easy to do all the secondary casting.”
Mount is also executive producer of Roman Polanski’s “Pirates,” starring Walter Matthau, which resumed shooting in Tunisia on Monday after a monthlong shutdown for the holidays and weather problems. He said that the MGM/UA Christmas release remains just one day behind schedule and will come in at about $30 million.
Polanski dreamed up the movie 12 years ago with Jack Nicholson on Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride during the filming of “Chinatown,” according to Mount. Mount developed “Pirates” during his tenure as Universal Pictures production chief and inherited the project when it was “dropped by the studio the day after they dropped me.”
PROMOTION OF THE WEEK: Those “Torchlight” ads showing Pamela Sue Martin behind a splash of cocaine are taking to the road--literally. About 55 oil tankers are scheduled to begin rolling along Southern California freeways this morning adorned with large placards advertising the film’s debut.
“Torchlight” is the first production by UCO International, a holding company active in the oil industry. Executive producer Manuel Rojas decided to take advantage of his oil associates to promote the film, which he describes as an anti-drug drama. The tankers--"beautiful, stainless steel trucks,” boasts Rojas--will carry the placards throughout the theatrical run.
TRAILERS: Columbia Pictures is proceeding with plans to show “A Soldier’s Story” in South Africa despite producer-director Norman Jewison’s opposition to segregated showings. The studio said that distributing “A Soldier’s Story” to integrated theaters “cannot be exercised since integrated theaters do not exist there, except drive-ins. . . .”
The replacement of Johnny Carson with Jack Lemmon as Oscar host this year puts the show back in the hands of a motion picture (not TV) figure. No reason for the change has been announced, but the exit of Carson and his usual monologue is expected to help streamline the proceedings.