With Anne Hathaway winning the Oscar – and for a musical – it was impossible for me not to think back when…
About eight years ago, I was working on a film project with a producer. A very production company was interested, so we sent them a packet with about 25 names of young actresses. They accepted 10 of them as possible, and rejected the rest. One of the rejections pissed me off so much that – even though she’d been rejected – I kept venting to the producer for months. The actress who’d so stupidly been rejected was Anne Hathaway. She’d only starred in two films at that point, but not only was The Princess Diaries so successful, she was also clearly hugely talented. And even her next film, Ella Enchanted – while not a hit – did passably well. And again, she was terrific in it. The reason she’d been among those rejected, by the way, was because the company said she wasn’t “cool enough.” This is what spurred my non-stop litany of what became known as “The Anne Hathaway Email of the Month” vents to the producer.
(I give a lot of bonus points to my producer, Michael Ewing. Most producers don't want to hear anything from a writer. Let alone about an actress who was already rejected. Let alone an unending barrage of yammerings about a rejected actress, from a writer. But to his great credit, Michael not only was open to such things, he actually listened. In fact, after getting so many yammering emails from me, he not only started including Anne Hathaway’s name as being right for our project when he submitted it to other companies – but he and his director partner Peter Segal even hired her soon after for another of their projects, Get Smart. To be fair, she had made Brokeback Mountain by that point, no small matter, as you can imagine, but Michael said he still kept my emails as a reminder. Another bonus point: most producers tend to forget the past when it's convenient to do so.)
Anyway, I just have the warm, whimsical view that such insane stupidity by production companies shouldn’t go un-remembered. I will leave out the name of the company, not because they deserve protection, but I don’t want to embarrass my producers, who have only done right.
Oh, and I still have the full packet of names that Michael sent over to the company, and keep it by my desk. It’s sort of like a fond reminder, since our project – even after all these years (sigh) is at least happily still alive.
But this story is even worse than all that.
Because a couple years prior to this – before my screenplay was even written – a friend of mine called me up one day to say that he had a connection with Disney, and they were looking for suggestions of musicals to do as the Disney Sunday Movie. Since he knew I had a respectable knowledge of musicals, he wondered if I had any suggestions.
I did. I told him he should suggest a great musical that’s never had a film made of it – Carnival, based on the classic MGM film, Lili. It's a show that got five Tony nominations and won one award, with a wonderful score by Bob Merrill, who later wrote the lyrics to Funny Girl. And I added to my friend that he could also suggest the actress who should star in it. Carnival, after all, is a difficult show to cast because it requires a young girl who has a near-operatic voice. I said that there’s this young actress named Anne Hathaway who had just starred in The Princess Diaries, and I had heard her talk about her opera training. Moreover, The Princess Diaries was made by Disney, so they might like to keep her in the family for The Disney Sunday Movies. She'd be perfect for it.
My friend didn’t pass along the suggestion. He didn’t know Carnival, didn’t think it was worth mentioning.
The story gets worse.
A year later, totally unrelated, Disney bought the stage rights to Carnival.
And it gets even worse.
Because a few months after that, the Encores! series in New York did a production of Carnival. And for the lead they hired – yes, you guessed it. Anne Hathaway.
(Side note: to prove that this isn’t an after-the-fact story – when Michael and Pete were making Get Smart, they invited me to the set. And Michael introduced me to Anne. The first thing I said was how much I liked her family's shirts. Fortunately, she laughed. And no, her family is not related to Hathaway shirts. Then I later got around to telling her about this Carnival story, and there were witnesses around. So there!)
And just to show how right my suggestion was -- here’s footage of Anne Hathaway in that Encores! production singing a number, “Yes, My Heart.” Eleven years ago.
The footage isn’t very good. The performance is a gem.
And then tonight, there was Anne Hathaway accepting her Academy Award -- for a musical.
Gee, who would have thought it?!
Incidentally, Carnival would still make a good film project. And Anne Hathaway could still probably play it.
Not that I would suggest it or anything…
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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