From 1971 on, for roughly a decade, my dad Howard Morris directed the vast majority of the original and now classic McDonaldland commercials. He helped cast some amazing actors to play the various crazy characters. Yes, it was just about selling product for a big company. But introduce the level of talent the ad agency so wisely brought in to produce these, the commercials were feature-style, extremely expensive filmmaking in every way. Each commercial was designed as a mini short-film in that they had a beginning, middle, and end. The crew was basically the same people for almost a decade. We were close. I was on set more or less from day one, and watched the creation of most of those commercials, from casting, to shooting, to dailies, to editing and finishing. Good old fashioned non-digital handmade filmmaking. In those days the ad agencies were great. They were friends of ours, too. They actually understood the creative process back then, and allowed their directors to work without creative intrusion. Trust me, as a director myself, those days are long gone.
In that world of real filmmaking and brilliant talent was a wonderful human being named Jerry Maren. Well known for playing one of the Lollipop Guild munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, Jerry Maren, who once handed Judy Garland a lollipop, died today in San Diego, CA at the amazing age of 98.
Jerry loved to act. In the early 1970s he was hired to play the role of Officer Big Mac. Everyone knew when he arrived where McDonaldland existed, Stage 5, located on a studio lot across from Paramount Studios on Melrose. I remember each morning Jerry would show up for work, he was always happy. I was just six at the time but everyday I would hang out with him as he dressed up in costume. He would suddenly start to sing. Not just singing quietly to himself, but singing to me! And he would use my name in the song! I’m pretty sure these were little made up on-the-spot strings of melodies that were floating in his head. They were just wonderful. Every line told a story about me, it rhymed just right, and he was always in perfect pitch. Very creative.
For Officer Big Mac, Jerry had to wear a huge hamburger head. It was very heavy and had to be secured to his body using a special steel framed upper body and shoulder harness that the head would then be slowly lowered onto by three or four members of the crew. Jerry could only stand up for a limited amount of time, supporting that amount of dead weight, before he had to rest. The head even had special hydraulics inside to control movement of the mouth by an off-screen crew member. And of course he then had to act, and make the character come to life according to the script, all of which under very hot lighting. plus Howard Morris giving intense verbal direction as it all came to life. It was a lot of pressure on Jerry, but was amazing as to how well he handled it. He was a true pro. If produced today, they would do all of this against blue screen with digital animation for the head, all in cushy and comfy air conditioned environments.
Jerry, you were a tremendous part of my childhood, and I can still hear your sing.
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NOVEMBER 7, 2017: I’d like to mention the loss of the great Jerry Lewis that occurred in August of this year. He died of cardiovascular disease at 91. He was yet another amazing talent on a growing list of folks who are greatly missed.
Over the years, Jerry not only blazed new trails of comedy, he also had long-standing involvement with my pop, Howard. The great Jerry Lewis was a fan, and Howard was also a Jerry fan.
Jerry did so many amazing things well, both on and off screen. He did so alongside so many amazingly gifted people. He appeared on everything from radio, stage, and network television shows such as “The Martin and Lewis Show” with the great Dean Martin. He appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The list of career achievements is staggering, including numerous comedies as an actor, writer, producer and director.
One of the films Jerry made that I am a fan of, is the original 1963 version of “The Nutty Professor.” His ability as a comedic actor to swap out diametrically opposed roles in such a seamless manner, in one film, and direct that film, was and still is fascinating for me.
In 1966, Jerry also starred in a film with Dennis Weaver, and our friend Brian Keith, called “Way… Way Out.” Both of these films also had another great actor in them, the amazing Howard Morris. Howard had wonderful roles in each of these very funny films. The images below are two stills from “The Nutty Professor.” One is a reaction shot with Jerry in-character as Professor Julius Kelp. The second is a reverse shot (in the same scene) of Howard playing Elmer Kelp (Jerry’s father).
JUNE 2, 2017: True or False; The intense discipline of dramatic theater, combined with Shakespeare, paved the way for Ernest T. Bass to run wild in Mayberry.
Answer: True! Long before The Andy Griffith Show, while serving as a sergeant in WWII (and subsequently on Broadway) Howard Morris performed the character of Laertes in Hamlet. SPOILER ALERT – NEXT SENTENCE ONLY: Laertes ends up killing Hamlet. But, as with all Shakespeare plays, there’s a brilliant twist!
My friend Allan Newsome shares some interesting facts, and Shakespearian ties, in this episode of Two Chairs No Waiting. Please support Allan in his tireless efforts of providing consistently amazing Mayberry background info by subscribing to his “Two Chairs No Waiting” either on YouTube, or his podcast.
It was 12 years ago today, almost to the minute, when we lost Howard.
I think about him multiple times a day.
I will always love him.