THE BOOTLEG FILES: JULIE AND JACKIE: HOW SWEET IT IS

BOOTLEG FILES 397: “Julie and Jackie: How Sweet It Is” (1974 television special starring Julie Andrews and Jackie Gleason).

LAST SEEN: The full program (with commercials!) is online at Google Video.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Never made available for home entertainment release.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: And away we go!

During the early 1970s, Julie Andrews’ career underwent some unusual changes. After her mid-1960s success in “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music,” the back-to-back commercial failures of her big-budget movies “Star!” (1968) and “Darling Lili” (1970) derailed her popularity as a film star. While big-screen opportunities abruptly vanished, small-screen opportunities emerged via a partnership of ABC and the British company Associated Television. This Anglo-American partnership backed Andrews in a weekly variety program that was produced in London and broadcast in both countries.

“The Julie Andrews Hour” won seven Emmy Awards, but it never scored in the U.S. or U.K. ratings and was cancelled after a single season. But rather than allow Andrews to wander off, ABC and Associated Television reconfigured their contract with the star. In the updated deal, she was contracted to appear in five one-shot variety specials, which aired between 1973 and 1975.

In her first three variety special Andrews, teamed up with the “Sesame Street” Muppets, celebrated Christmas with Peggy Lee and Peter Ustinov, and reunited with her “Mary Poppins” co-star Dick Van Dyke. These productions were clearly aimed at the family audiences that initially raised Andrews to Hollywood stardom. For her third special, however, Andrews took a strange challenge by working with Jackie Gleason in a program that would pay tribute to the Great One’s colorful career. The resulting “Julie and Jackie: How Sweet It Is” can only be described as a fascinating failure, with two iconic talents trying in vain to mesh their extremely different performing styles into a coherent whole.

“Julie and Jackie: How Sweet It Is” is divided into skits and musical numbers that highlight Gleason’s career peaks. The show opens with Gleason recalling his dismal beginnings as a burlesque comic – which he recreates (complete with the bad jokes) while Andrews takes on the role of a gum-chewing stripper who serves as the funnyman’s foil.

Perhaps the strangest part of the show is a “Honeymooners” sketch with Andrews taking on the role of Ed Norton. She makes a valiant try to imitate the gestures and demeanor of Art Carney’s classic character, but she is unable to maintain Norton’s distinctive vocal eccentricities. There is also an unexpectedly queer denouement when Gleason’s Ralph Kramden tells Andrews’ Norton “you’re the greatest” – followed by a direct kiss on the mouth!

More gender bending comes when Gleason revives his raucous playboy character Reggie Van Gleason III.  Andrews shows up dressed exactly like Gleason’s creation – complete with mustache and tuxedo. The point of the skit is Reggie’s tour of London (he claims never to have made it out of the pubs), and the pair sing “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” while a squadron of dancers (also dressed like Reggie Van Gleason III) run about the stage.

The stars have two additional duets: they revive the title tune of Gleason’s 1959 Broadway hit “Take Me Along” and, in tribute to Gleason’s poolroom prowess, perform the “Trouble in River City” number from “The Music Man.” The latter is weird, with Gleason as Prof. Harold Hill and Andrews shoehorned in as the professor’s “assistant.”  The problem with both duets is that Andrews vocally outperforms Gleason – her voice is sharp and clear, but his singing is surprisingly weak (especially in “Trouble in River City,” which he barely survives). When the duo shares lyrics, all you hear is Andrews.

Even more calamitous is a revival of Gleason’s classic Joe the Bartender number. Rather than exchange inanities with Crazy Guggenheim, Joe winds up in a give-and-take with Andrews’ Eliza Doolittle from “My Fair Lady.” Unfortunately, the jokes are dreary and the mix of Andrews’ Cockney snarl against Gleason’s Brooklyn bellowing is as appetizing as a spoonful of Marmite smeared across a bagel.

Actually, the show works best in one sequence when the stars go solo: Gleason trots out his Poor Soul character for a mild pantomime skit in an outdoor café, while Andrew follows with a poignant rendition of the song “Smile.”

For no clear reason, the show ends on a somewhat serious note: a dramatic skit with Gleason as a down-on-his-luck actor expressing his frustration during a failed audition. Andrews is the casting assistant who reads a scene with him, but the scene is all Gleason’s as he openly vents his frustration at having to prove himself to unsympathetic observers. It is impressive, but it doesn’t belong in a musical variety production.

Since “Julie and Jackie: How Sweet It Is” was produced by Associated Television, Gleason needed to travel to London for the taping. He claimed that his flight across the Atlantic was his first airplane trip in 20 years. Perhaps Gleason was uncomfortable with his British surroundings – throughout the production, he gave the impression of being ill at ease with the material. Even in his solo turn as the Poor Soul, he never truly poured his enthusiasm into the work.

ABC broadcast  “Julie and Jackie: How Sweet It Is” on May 22, 1974. Sentry Insurance was the corporate sponsor and took up all of the commercial breaks. The show was broadcast in Great Britain three months later under the title “Julie Andrews and Jackie Gleason…Together.” The title change was because Gleason’s television work was not well known across the Atlantic, and his trademark expression “How sweet it is” meant nothing to British viewers.

The production was not particularly well received in either country, and I don’t believe that ABC reran the show. However, I recall seeing the program (back when I was a kid in the 1970s) on an independent TV channel in New York sometime in the late 1970s. If memory serves me correctly, “Julie and Jackie: How Sweet It Is” was syndicated to non-network independent stations around the U.S.

Andrews would star in one more TV special under her ABC-Associated Television contract – a 1975 effort with the Muppets. None of her specials have ever been repackaged for U.S. home entertainment release – I assume that problems in clearing music rights have held up their return to public viewing.

However, a bootleg of “Julie and Jackie: How Sweet It Is” can be seen (complete with the Sentry Insurance commercials) on Google Video.  (Click here to see it.) The visual quality is not pristine, but that can be forgiven. While the production does not offer Andrews and Gleason at their respective best, it is still an interesting footnote in their illustrious careers.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on October 14, 2011 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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