An Oral History of Airplane!

Has it really been 35 years since the movie Airplane! came out? Yes it has, and that means an entire generation of viewers needs to learn the history behind the groundbreaking film. It was full of actors who didn’t normally do comedy. It was a parody of several serious movies. And it made Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker names to remember in Hollywood. The A.V. Club talked to 14 different people involved in the making of Airplane! to compile the story of the film. They talk about the script, the casting (both Bruce Jenner and David Letterman auditioned), the shoot, the final product, and plenty of great stories about the stars.

Leisure: Leslie Nielsen’s whole persona up to that moment—Airplane! absolutely changed his career—was that he was the big, handsome, staid leading man. But he was the goofiest motherfucker you’ve ever met in your life.

D. Zucker: In person, Leslie was a silly practical joker, as probably everyone knows by now. He had that little fart machine of his, so that every time he was interviewed on a show or something—and in real life—he would be talking with a straight face, and then he would appear to be farting. That’s just what he liked to do.

Leisure: He was a virtuoso fart musician. He had a little fart machine that he would keep in his hand, and he would, like, sit down next to you. [Adopts deep voice.] “Hi, I’m Leslie Nielsen. You’ve probably seen me in the movies and things.” [Belches.] “Sorry, I had some onions at lunch.” And then he would have this thing tucked under his arm, and you’d hear this loud, boisterous fart come out, and you’d go, “Oh, my God!” And then you’d realize he was pulling a gag on you, and he’d go sit down next to some girl, some extra, and he’d do the same thing. You’d see her face just blanch, waiting for the invisible thing to hit her nostrils.

Bryant: The first day I walked on the set, Leslie introduced himself, and then I heard these horrible noises. [Laughs.] This rubber and metal thing fit in the palm in his hand, and it would make farting noises. People would walk by, and they’d think, “Oh, that poor man!”

Other stories include how they wrote the “jive talk,” why Kareen Abdul-Jabbar was paid that much, how the kid who visited the cockpit didn’t understand the jokes until he saw the final cut, and the story of those people who lined up to slap some sense into a panicking passenger. It’s all at the A.V. Club, and don’t call me Shirley. -via Metafilter


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