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71 4 Establishing a Mythos as the Verne Cycle Begins, 1956–1959 Walt Disney demonstrated how color, widescreen, and special effects could serve to vitalize Verne for the screen and become crucial to the popularity of such a film, providing sights that audiences had never seen before, but he also proved that adaptations needed to retain the grounding in the author’s nineteenth-century world. Even as Paramount, in adapting H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds for the screen in 1953, had transplanted the time and place from turn-of-the-century England to modern-day California, such alterations did not influence Verne filmmaking . Disney’s return to the author’s own setting provided a crucial lead for subsequent Verne films, whose foothold remained appropriately in the nineteenth century. This was most obviously true as Around the World in Eighty Days was brought to the screen in 1956 in a nearly definitive rendering of the novel, more faithful to its source than all but a few Verne movies. Silent versions, whether the one from Germany in 1914 or the American serial Around the World in 18 Days, had updated the story to contemporary times and were more pastiche than adaptation. Fortunately, in making the first large-scale screen rendition of the novel, producer Michael Todd consolidated and perpetuated Disney’s precedents by returning to Verne’s own time. Todd was a champion showman, who, like Disney, was able to ignite Verne’s appeal to a mass audience, although in a contrasting genre, pure adventure, without science fiction. Critics and audi- 72 Hollywood Presents Jules Verne ences joined in applause, and Around the World in 80 Days won five Academy Awards, including one for best picture, along with numerous other honors.1 Todd followed Disney’s lead in creating his own exploitation and promotion.2 Major tie-ins included two different‑size seventy-two‑page Random House hardbound color program books that sold widely beyond theaters and an illustrated Avon paperback of the novel, which was published again for the movie’s 1968 re-release. Television promotions also served as an echo and supplement, no less than had been the case with 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. The popularity that Around the World in 80 Days enjoyed was commemorated on the first anniversary of the movie’s premier with a chaotic but highly rated all‑star party in Madison Square Garden with eighteen thousand of Todd’s “closest and most intimate friends,” along with a thousand entertainers. On the scale of a political convention, CBS paid $175,000 for a live broadcast of this 1957 celebration, entitled Around the World in 90 Minutes, and as a result box office receipts increased.3 The show also served to mark the transition of the release to a more traditional pattern. Whereas most movies had completed their theatrical showings by the time a year had passed, during the first year Around the World in 80 Days was exhibited only on a “road show” basis, opening in select cities with screenings twice daily. Tickets had to be purchased in advance—making them difficult to come by and rendering the movie an “event” more akin to a stage show than to a typical motion picture release. The same year, on April 2, 1957, a special satire entitled “Bilko Goes around the World” appeared on The Phil Silvers Show. After the men of the army base go to Around the World in 80 Days, an attempt to get Sergeant Bilko a free flight to San Francisco leads to realizing he could fly military planes around the world in less than eighty hours. Bilko telephones Todd and interests him in promoting a contest to give $20,000 to the first person to make it around the world in that time. The producer appears as himself, holding his own with the professional comedians, effectively portraying just the type of promoter who would take credit for Bilko’s idea. Around the World in 80 Days was also the culmination of Todd’s life and his brief filmmaking career; he died at age fifty in an airplane crash on March 22, 1958.4 He had been interested in the novel since 1946, Establishing a Mythos as the Verne Cycle Begins 73 when he briefly sponsored Orson Welles’s unsuccessful stage musical production of it, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Todd described the story as “a fairy tale for adults” but believed that a stage presentation...


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