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‘Men of Crisis’: Woody Allen’s 1972 PBS ‘mockumentary’ that was cancelled for political reasons

By the time Woody Allen made “Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story” in 1971/72, messing with found footage as well as the documentary form had become old hat for the restlessly experimental moviemaker. After all, his feature-length experiment of fusing new dialogue to existing footage, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? has been released several years earlier, in 1966. His first faux documentary (and one of the first “mockumentaries” in cinema history), Take the Money and Run, had come out in 1969.

“Men of Crisis” seems more than a little perfunctory. Wallinger is clearly a substitute for Henry Kissinger, but there’s really nothing about the Kissinger-Nixon relationship (as it was perceived in 1971) that was all that funny; the humor lies in the notion of Woody being “the second most powerful man in America.” The movie was supposed to be an hour long, but the final product delivered by Woody ran only 25 minutes long. Clearly the subject of the reprehensible Nixon presidency (pre-Watergate, of course) did not really animate Woody. The movie feels a lot like an extended sketch from HBO’s “Not Necessarily the News” in the 1980s, which usually juxtaposed perfectly normal footage of e.g. Ronald Reagan with concocted footage to produce a ridiculous effect. One thing that makes “Men in Crisis” noteworthy is that it marks the first occasion Woody Allen and Diane Keaton worked together on a movie. Keaton plays Wallinger’s ex-wife, “Renata Baldwin, who attends Vassar College, where she studies to be a blacksmith.” (As a Vassar alum, I’m pretty fond of this joke.)

Richard Nixon had a knack for annoying liberal elites that was very similar to that of George W. Bush. Woody Allen was never the most political of artists; even when dealing with politics, such as in “Men of Crisis” or Bananas, the essentially surrealist nature of his humor tends to run roughshod over any particular satire. One gets the feeling, watching “Men of Crisis,” that Woody has contempt for Nixon mainly because he’s not highbrow enough (witness the gag about Nixon and Agnew knowing “almost” all of the numbers from 1 to 10).

PBS was worried about running the program, they were right to be. After all, the Nixon administration was so famously thin-skinned that Nixon personally exerted pressure on Jack L. Warner to remove the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” from the movie 1776 because it seemed to poke fun at conservatives. (You can watch the musical number on recent reissues of the movie; it seems pretty harmless.)

If nothing else, the cancellation of “Men of Crisis” had the effect of cementing Woody’s determination to work in feature movies, where outside interference could be minimized. He said afterwards that the incident had reinforced his preference to “stick to movies.” According to The Vanishing Vision: The Inside Story of Public Television by James Day, the cancellation of “Men of Crisis” went down as follows:

The politically charged atmosphere of the early seventies should have warned those of us at NET that the times were hardly propitious for political satire—and certainly not on the public medium. But so eager were we to bring an element of lightness, a laugh or two, to public television’s overarching solemnity that we unhesitatingly accepted Woody Allen’s offer in late 1971 to produce a special. We didn’t even pull back after learning that he intended to use the show to satirize the Nixon White House. Allen approached us after having produced two prime-time specials for the commercial networks, fully expecting the public medium to give him greater artistic license to write and perform the kind of humor for which he is justly celebrated. He was wrong.

…. In the opinion of the PBS legal staff, the Woody Allen show “presents fairness problems … personal attack, equal time and taste problems,” a solid guarantee that no public station in the country would risk airing it. Except, of course, our own WNET.

What I and a brace of our attorneys screened with nervous interest was a mock documentary, Men of Crisis, that mimicked the style of the old March of Time, in which authentic news footage was combined with dramatic elements, a technique Allen later perfected in his feature film Zelig. The original hour-long script had been trimmed to the twenty-five-minute “documentary,” and the balance of the hour had been filled by an interview with Allen on the nature of comedy. Men of Crisis managed not only to lampoon the Nixon White House but to needle both the president’s foes (Humphrey and Wallace) as well as his friends (Agnew, Hoover, Laird, and Mitchell). Allen himself played the fictional Harvey Wallinger, high-living confidant and counselor to the president, whose resemblance to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was more than coincidental. As might be expected, the show included moments of questionable taste. Allen explained that “it is hard to do anything about the Administration that wouldn’t be in bad taste.”

I withdrew the show after the screening, hoping to find a broader context to make Men of Crisis acceptable to the system, perhaps by marrying it with other satiricial pieces that took aim with prudent impartiality at a broader range of political icons.


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Woody Allen: stand-up comedian, film director, comic strip character
06:32 am


Woody Allen

This irrational and improbable thing actually happened: a comic strip titled Inside Woody Allen - starring the man himself - was syndicated by King Features from 1976 to 1984. Created and drawn by Stuart Hample of later Children’s Letters to God fame, the strip was based on Allen’s familiar persona—the angsty, neurotic, Jewish everyman if every man was a cripplingly overanalytical disaster—and it still got printed in daily newspapers for eight years!

Hample recalled the process of working with Allen in the anthology Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip, excerpted in 2009 by The Guardian:

I had a lightbulb epiphany. It occurred to me that Woody might make a terrific comic strip. But how would he – 39 and by now wildly successful – react? I ran a test scene in my head. Me: “Woody, I have an idea for a comic strip based on you. Possible?” Woody: “Sorry. Up to my neck writing a movie, editing another movie. Writing a piece for The New Yorker. Don’t need the money. Try me next year.”

So I asked him in person. Woody was intrigued enough to say: “Show me some sketches.” I based my drawings on how he looked in his late 20s, when we’d first met. He OK’d the Woody cartoon character (he even had it animated for a sequence in Annie Hall) and said: “What about the jokes?” I brought jokes. He looked through them. “Maybe,” he said, “I could help you with the jokes.”

Assuming he was offering to write them, I wanted to shout: “My saviour!” Instead, I said: “OK.” Which was more appropriate, since his help turned out to be dozens of pages of jokes from his standup years. Some were mere shards, such as “tied me to Jewish star – uncomfortable crucifixion”. Others were even more minimal: “bull fighting”, “astrology” (Woody occasionally translated these hieroglyphs).

But there were longer notations: “Sketch – man breaking up with female ape after his evolution.” And there were little playlets: “Freud could not order blintzes. He was ashamed to say the word. He’d go into an appetiser store and say, ‘Let me have some of those crepes with cheese in the middle.’ And the grocer would say, ‘Do you mean blintzes, Herr Professor?’ And Freud would turn all red and run out through the streets of Vienna, his cape flying. Furious, he founded psychoanalysis and made sure it wouldn’t work.”

A newspaper syndicate agreed to publish the feature. They requested six weeks of sample strips. I went each Saturday to Woody’s Fifth Avenue penthouse, where he judged the material and offered suggestions on how to develop characters and pace gags, and pleaded with me to maintain high standards. On 4 October 1976, the strip was launched. Woody, the pen-and-ink protagonist, was angst-ridden, flawed, fearful, insecure, inadequate, pessimistic, urban, single, lustful, rejected by women. He was cowed by mechanical objects, and a touch misanthropic. He was also at odds with his antagonistic parents; committed his existential panic to a journal; had regular sessions with his passive-aggressive psychotherapist; was threatened by large, often armed, men; and employed his modest size to communicate physical impotence the way Chaplin, in the guise of the Little Tramp, suffered humiliation.

I often wondered why Woody gave the concept a green light. In 1977, he related the following anecdote. He had cast the actress Mary Beth Hurt in his movie Interiors. Hurt regularly phoned her mother in Iowa to reassure her that she was safe and happy. During one of those calls, she proudly announced that she was going to play Diane Keaton’s sister in a movie “by somebody you probably haven’t heard of, a director named Woody Allen”. “I know about him,” said her mother, “he’s in the funny pages.” Woody’s manager figured it was no bad thing if his image was disseminated daily out in the heartland.

Read those again, and check out this small online gallery of strips, keeping in mind that these ran in the daily funnies. Children in the late 1970s and early 1980s were seeing gags about the dead bluebird of happiness alongside Marmaduke and The Family Circus. There are plenty of reasons that Gen X turned out so messed up, but might this strip be in that mix? Could this have been a contributor to our baffling consumption of shitty angst-rock and Fruitopia?

That’s probably an overreach, sure, but still, that’s pretty damn advanced matter for the funnypapers.

Much of that angst was attributable to Allen’s participation - and was of course necessitated by obeisance to his stand-up persona - but the most notable gag writer for the strip was David Weinberger, who later went on to a career as an online marketing guru, best known for his Cluetrain Manifesto and Small Pieces Loosely Joined. Interesting how Hample and Weinberger, the auteurs behind arguably the most openly neurotic and fussily intellectual daily comic strip ever syndicated in the United States went on to greater fame for such square stuff! I suppose angst is a less reliable cash generator than cute kids and formulae for success. So it goes.

Upon the 2009 release of Dread and Superficiality (not the only anthology of the strip, by the way, just the only one widely available presently), Hample appeared with Dick Cavett to talk about Allen and the strip at the fantastic NYC bookstore The Strand. There’s video, in five parts. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

For another amusing sample of Allen in an unexpected medium, check out this footage of him appearing opposite Nancy Sinatra on the game show Password in 1965.

More Woody and Nancy after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Watch Woody Allen in a series of commercials for a Japanese department store, 1982
09:22 am


Woody Allen

I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly that I find so off-putting about Woody Allen in a series of commercials for Seibu, a Japanese department store. Cinematically, the appeal is very Warholian—watching a celebrity in a sparse setting, engaging in simple, mundane activities. It’s just that in this case, they’re very Japanese activities. Maybe it’s the idea of Woody Allen representing a brand? I like some of his films, but frankly, I’m never going to buy something because Woody Allen told me to. My distaste for celebrity endorsement aside, he’s not a guy many would ask for shopping tips outside of Zabar’s.

Maybe it’s weird because it’s a Japanese brand, and Woody Allen seems so uniquely culture-specific. Large swaths of Middle America don’t even like Woody Allen, but in Asia he was hawking the Japanese equivalent of Bloomingdale’s? From what I can tell from Seibu’s original press statements, Japan wasn’t even particularly aware of Woody Allen at the time! Seibu’s executives said they wanted someone who was an “adult” to represent their brand. One said “being good-looking is not enough.” You’ll note that Allen’s name is never mentioned in the spots. It’s amusing to wonder if he was hired more for being a “funny looking white guy” than for being Woody Allen.

Did Seibu break Woody in Japan? If so, what do they like better, Annie Hall or Love and Death? How does Woody Allen translate?  I simply must know more!

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
This latex Woody Allen mask will be the most horrifying thing you’ll see all day

I turned this up completely by accident yesterday searching for something that wasn’t even Woody Allen-related. What in the name of Silence of the Lambs did I stumble upon? Apparently this latex Woody Allen mask was sold on eBay back in 2007. I-I, I have no words…

This is as hellish as it gets, m’ friends.

I can’t find much background information on it, but you can click on this link and maybe you’ll have better luck than me.

All I can say is, if you’re able to get your hands on one these for Halloween, you’ll definitely be the creepiest-creepster creeping around your burg. Ugh.

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Woody Allen’s breezy 1965 resume is really worth a gander
08:42 am

Pop Culture

Woody Allen

Keeping it single-spaced, because the man had rather a lot of accomplishments before turning the ripe old age of thirty!

Born in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. 1935.
Attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn.
Attended New York University but thrown out for poor student.
Attended City College of New York but thrown out for poor student.
Began career as professional comedy writer at 17, writing for Radio.
First show was Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy Radio Show.
Wrote for TV for years for such shows as:
Herb Shriner.
Gary Moore Show.
Sid Caesar Show.
Art Carney Specials.
Tonight Show.
Max Liebman Shows.
Won Emmy nominations and Sylvania Award for best writing on Sid Caesar Show.
Wrote for many comedians who appeared on TV and in nightclubs.
Wrote sketches produced on Broadway in revues.
Turned comedian nearly three years ago on a wild hunch of my managers.
Tried to keep it limited but performing went very well and one club led to another and one TV show led to another.
Appeared in U.S. at The Blue Angel, in N.Y., the Hungry in San Francisco, Basin St. East in New York, Mister Kelly’s in Chicago, Crystal Palace in St. Louis, Bitter End in New York (the latter was a coffee house that I got my first real start at, playing there for several consecutive months where the press could come and see me for a showcase.) Crescendo in L.A., Shadows in Wash.
Have done many concerts for colleges, groups and recorded my first record album titled Woody Allen just a few months ago.
On TV have appeared on The Jack Paar Show, the Tonight Show (I took the latter over for one week when Johnny Carson went on vacation) The Hootenany Show, Candid Camera, Steve Allen.
Anxious to get back to the United States to fulfill several cabaret and hotel bookings and some TV shots.
Press has been extraordinary, having appeared extremely favorably in every major magazine (Life, Time, Newsweek New Yorker, Playboy, every major newspaper and trade paper, Saturday Evening Post, Saturday Revue, etc).
Wrote What’s New Pussycat?” when Charles Feldman and Shirley MacLaine happened to catch me at the Blue Angel and he felt I’d be right to do script of a wild conception he had. It is my first movie script and the first time - I’ve ever acted.
I am currently finishing off a play entitled tentatively Don’t Drink the Water, to be produced by Max Gordon on Broadway upon my return to the U.S.
Since my week on the Johnny Carson Show I have had many offers for my own TV series, to act on TV and Broadway both in comedies and musicals (I don’t sing or dance) have been offered parts in motion pictures and opportunities to do screenplays of major films.
I am not interested in writing any movies that I would not be in heavily (star or co-star in is what I mean) and would not do adaptations for anyone in any medium because I am only interested in writing originals under any conditions. I would accept funny roles if offered me and I liked them.
I have been offered opportunities to direct both films and play for Broadway, both of which I would like to do someday but not right now.
I have been offered many advances for written material from all the top publishing houses for books but I haven’t the time.
My hobbies are not drinking and avoiding sex.
I play several musical instruments, all horribly. I love music.
I have been married (when I was 19) for six years. I discuss my marriage and subsequent divorce in my act in detail.
Everything I say in my act is either true or based closely on my experiences either real or fantasy.
I have no children.
I go out with girls if they are pretty, funny, bright, neurotic, and like Hershey Bars. (addict)
My family is alive (or think they are) - my sister is twenty-one, married recently and a teacher.
My father is now in the jewelry business but has been many things (but not a father) including a waiter for many years.
My mother has always been a bookkeeper in a flower shop.
When I was a child they’d give me a quarter and I’d let them alone. Now I give them money and they let me alone.
I live (contrary to the incessant myth about me living in Greenwich Village, which I never did or claimed to, I just dress in expensive but ill fitting clothes so I guess it looks sort of that way) on the chic upper east side on Manhattan and have for the past eight years or nine years. I love it there, adore Fifth Avenue, and wouldn’t want to live anyplace else.
I do not own a car or dog.
I enjoy working both writing and any form of performing.
I hated performing at first but now I like it. It was hard to make the adjustment from the closed room to facing people but my managers forced me.
Whereas I was friendless and alone three years ago, I now have a girl friend, managers, a press agent, a lawyer, and an accountant.
I like Sugar Ray Robinson, little blonde girls and William Butler Yeats.
I hate rising early, being beaten up and when I don’t get my way.
If I could have been anyone else I would have liked to have been Louis Armstrong.
Woody Allen Resume page 1
Woody Allen Resume page 2
(via Showbiz Imagery and Chicanery)

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The impulse to dress as a pirate: Woody Allen talks film-making and ‘Manhattan’

Film-making is about having something to say—something that can only be said in a film and not a short story, or a play, or a novel.

That’s how Woody Allen described his movies—it’s the best way for him to express and explore his ideas, his feelings, and well, because he has ‘to do something for a living.’

It was June 1979, Woody Allen was said to be hiding in Paris. His latest film Manhattan, had opened in New York to overwhelming critical acclaim. As the reviews filtered back to his hotel suite, Woody talked about the movie and film-making to Barry Norman, for the BBC’s Film ‘79.

As Allen explained to Norman, Manhattan was inspired by a dinner conversation with Diane Keaton and cinematographer, Gordon Willis, where they discussed the idea of making a film in Black & White.

‘And as we talked about it, gradually a story spun out in my mind about it. And, you know, it could be anything, it could be a sudden anger over something or, the impulse to want to dress as a pirate. You know, any one of those things could do it.’

But why Manhattan? asked Norman.

‘I live in Manhattan and wouldn’t think of living anywhere else, really,’ said Allen, before going on to explain it’s a great place to live—‘because you know you’re alive.’

With thanks to NellyM


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
EVERY Woody Allen stammer
12:26 pm

Pop Culture

Woody Allen

A 44-minute long video montage of every time Woody Allen stammered in all of the films he’s ever appeared in. But what about all of the TV appearances, comedy records and documentaries on Allen? He stammers in all of ‘em.

How long did it take the editor make this?! Talk about dedication to the art of Woody Allen’s stammering!

With thanks to Edward Ludvigsen!

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Woody Allen: Fascinating documentary made for French TV in 1979

I was never much of a fan of Annie Hall. I couldn’t honestly believe anyone would want to spend time with someone who seemed to be so alienated from their own feelings. I sat in the cinema thinking “Get oan wi’ it. Dae something”. But all that happened was introspective discourse and humor as deflection. Sure it had funny moments, but it seemed a million miles away from my life and the lives of those around me. And it seemed indulgent.

Yet, Annie Hall marked the turning point when Allen’s unique brand of humor conquered the world, and changed film and TV comedy for the next 3 decades, right up to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Allen was suddenly everywhere - from the covers of Newsweek and Time, to lengthy interviews on French TV and the South Bank Show. He was the pin-up of geeks and the bourgeoisie, and Annie Hall was a lifestyle choice.

Still, none of that takes away from the fact Woody Allen is a comic genius, and a brilliantly talented writer and director of films.

This fascinating documentary captures Allen not long after his Oscar success with Annie Hall and the release of his follow-up movie Interiors. Made for French TV in 1979 by Jacques Meny, and actress/journalist, France Roche, this documentary takes the neurotic King of Comedy through his childhood, early career, and success as writer filmmaker. Though the voice over is French, Allen’s interview is in English. 



Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Woody Allen’s son’s wry Father’s Day tweet
11:36 am


Woody Allen
Mia Farrow
Ronan Farrow

Naturally his mother Mia Farrow retweeted it!

“Boom” indeed!

Via Dlisted

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Woody Allen on women
10:54 am


Woody Allen
Dick Cavett

The longtime friendship between Woody Allen and Dick Cavett is well-known and Allen’s appearances on the various incarnations of Cavett’s talkshows in the 70s and early 80s have been highlights of both men’s small screen oeuvres. Woody Allen used to be on TV a LOT, but he was never better than when he had the always witty Cavett as his comic foil.

In the clip below, Cavett and Allen discuss women, not as the title would have you believe, particle physics, although I’m sure they could make that topic funny also…

There are 14 hours of Cavett interviewing comedic legends like Woody Allen, Groucho Marx and Bob Hope (especially interesting because he does the interview straight, not mugging for laughs) in the fascinating DVD box set The Dick Cavett Show - Comic Legends, which is where this clip comes from.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
When Jean-Luc Godard met Woody Allen
01:09 pm


Woody Allen
Jean-Luc Godard

If you are a fan of either Woody Allen or Jean-Luc Godard, then Godard’s 1986 short Meeting WA should tickle your fancy. Featuring Allen’s trademarked neuroses and some standard Godardian cinematic tropes, it’s a 26-minute gem. Filmed when Allen was participating in Godard’s nearly universally-panned King Lear adaptation.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
When Woody Allen met Billy Graham
04:50 pm


Woody Allen
Billy Graham

Militant agnostic and general pessimist Woody Allen spars good-naturedly with Rev. Billy Graham during this engaging interview from The Woody Allen Show, on September 21, 1969. Topics of discussion include the meaning of life, pre-martial sex and marijuana.

Allen reminisced about the encounter in an interview with Commonweal in 2010:

I was with Billy Graham once, and he said that even if it turned out in the end that there is no God and the universe is empty, he would still have had a better life than me. I understand that. If you can delude yourself by believing that there is some kind of Santa Claus out there who is going to bail you out in the end, then it will help you get through. Even if you are proven wrong in the end, you would have had a better life.

My father, bless him, has tried that same argument on me, to about the same effect…

Part II is here.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Woody Allen boxes a kangaroo, 1966
12:01 pm


Woody Allen
kangaroo boxing

Woody Allen back when he was funny. From the UK/US co-production, Hippodrome, a television program shot in London showcasing the best European circus acts of the day.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
If Woody Allen had made ‘Taxi Driver’

Woody Allen’s dialog from Hannah and Her Sisters almost fits perfectly into this scene from Taxi Driver, with Robert De Niro and Cybill Shepherd. It works so well that it even presages what we know happens in Martin Scorsese’s film

“A week ago I bought a rifle. If I had a tumor, I was gonna kill myself. The thing that might’ve stopped me: My parents would be devastated. I would’ve had to shoot them also.
And my aunt and uncle….It would have been a bloodbath…

...I need answers. Otherwise, I’m gonna do something drastic.”

Now if only the Three Stooges had made Goodfellas.

Previously on DM:

James Coco: Overt hostility disguised as comedy disguised as overt hostility

Bonus clip, Rick Moranis spoofs Dick Cavett and Woody Allen in ‘Taxi Driver’, after the jump..

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Jaw-dropping woodcut paintings from Lisa Brawn

These are just stunning! Stunning! I certainly wouldn’t mind owning one of those fantastic Zappas. From the artist Lisa Brawn:

image I have been experimenting with figurative woodcuts for almost twenty years since being introduced to the medium by printmakers at the Alberta College of Art and Design. Recently, I have been wrestling with a new challenge: five truckloads of salvaged century-old rough Douglas fir beams from the restoration of the Alberta Block in Calgary and from the dismantling of grain elevators. This wood is very interesting in its history and also in that it is oddly shaped. Unlike traditional woodcut material such as cherry or walnut, the material is ornery. There are holes and knots and gouges and rusty nails sticking out the sides.

To find suitably rustic and rugged subjects, I have been referencing popular culture personas and archetypes from 1920s silent film cowboys to 1970s tough guys. I have also been through the Glenbow Museum archives for horse rustlers, bootleggers, informants, and loiterers in turn-of-the-century RCMP mug shots for my Quién es más macho series. Cowgirl trick riders and cowboy yodelers in their spectacular ensembles from the 1940s led to my Honky-Tonkin, Honey, Baby series. Inspired by a recent trip to Coney Island, I have been exploring vintage circus culture and am currently working on a series of sideshow portraits including Zip the Pinhead and JoJo the Dog-faced Boy. There is also an ongoing series of iconic gender archetypes, antiheroes and divas, which includes such portraits as Sophia Loren, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Jackie Onassis, Steve McQueen, and Clint Eastwood.

Please visit Lisa Brawn’s website to view hundreds of amazing woodcuts.

(via Everlasting Blort)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
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