Several readers have informed me that there is no DVD yet for this film, thus it can't be an official Netflix pick. But there are VHS copies and it shows up on TV so if you can't get it, watch for it. What does it say when GIGLI is out on DVD and THOUSAND CLOWNS is not? It was 1965 in the San Fernando Valley. I had gone to the nearby Baronet theater to see THE LOVED ONE, billed as “The motion picture with something to offend everyone!” Who wouldn’t rush to see that?
Art houses were hard to find in LA suburbia because there were so few, they were wedged into shopping centers, and they were all the size of shoe boxes. The vacuum cleaner repair shop next door was always larger. There was not a very big demand for movies that didn’t star Julie Andrews or James Bond.
Art houses like the Baronet always showed double features. It’s not like anyone went to two art houses a month. So when I arrived early I had no choice but to watch the other film on the bill, something called A THOUSAND CLOWNS. Jason Robards Jr. was an eccentric TV writer man/child raising his precocious nephew (Barry Gordon) in Manhattan. Barbara Harris was the young inexperienced social worker sent to investigate. I was enthralled. I had never seen a comedy so funny and yet so real. The laughs came out of the characters and not THAT DARN CAT. The story was about something – nonconformity and its consequences in society. He was in danger of having his kid taken away. Not exactly a MAD MAD WORLDLY premise but funny just the same. There is comedy in truth – something you don’t generally get from HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI.
I became a huge fan of the author, Herb Gardner, bought the play, and almost memorized it. If I was going to write comedy someday, I vowed, this was the kind of stuff I would write. I later vowed that about Neil Simon plays, Woody Allen movies, and Mel Brooks movies, but at the time (and for the most part still) Herb Gardner was the man. Rent A THOUSAND CLOWNS. Then read A THOUSAND CLOWNS. And if you’re going to write a comedy, shoot for A THOUSAND CLOWNS.