Remembering Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year

My Favorite Year is a perfect star vehicle for the late Peter O’Toole

As a small tribute to Peter O’Toole, who just died, I re-run this review of one his best films. You may enjoy also the RBC Recommendation of another O’Toole gem, The Ruling Class

This star vehicle for Peter O’Toole (playing a drunken, rakish movie star reminiscent of Peter O’Toole) delivers big laughs as well as some acute observations on the nature of fame. The movie also opens a window into the world of 1950s live television comedy and the people who made it happen.

The supporting cast is filled with wily veterans who know how to get the most laughs out of the material. Bill Macy is perfect as the beleaguered head writer, and Joseph Bologna is almost as good as a Sid Caesaresque television star. Another treat: In the sweet scene in which O’Toole dances with an older woman on her wedding anniversary, the role is played by 1930s film star Gloria Stuart (two of her best are Prisoner of Shark Island and The Old Dark House).

This was Richard Benjamin’s first time out as a director, and it shows a bit. The tone and style of the film are not as consistent as what he would achieve in his films as he became more experienced. The script, while funny most of the time, also includes some weak gags and slow spots. Can one extremely charming star leap over such weaknesses in a single bound and keep the audience laughing and cheering? In O’Toole’s case, the answer is clearly yes.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

17 thoughts on “Remembering Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year”

  1. O’Toole was really playing Errol Flynn, per Mel Brooks, as this entire story is based upon a Mel Brooks real life story as a young writer on Sid Ceasar’s Show of Shows in the early to mid 1950s.

    Still, one of the greatest comedy films of the past 30 years. Joseph Bologna and Bill Macy were amazing and really together stole the show, even with O’Toole’s brilliant anchor performance. And yes, the scene with Gloria Stewart is poignant without being maudlin.

    Final note: I met Richard Benjamin and his wife Paula Prentiss at a book signing for Lewis Lapham in Los Angeles about 12 or 13 years ago. When I told them how much I loved “MFY,” she playfully hit him and said, “See? People LIKE that movie!” I learned that Benjamin felt it was a failure on his part which may have explained why he directed so few films thereafter. I said it was a landmark film, especially in our family, with many family members freely quoting from it for various occasions. I said again it was one of my favorite films of all time and one that gives great joy and laughter. Prentiss was very happy with all that, while Benjamin as much surprised as happy. To this day, I find that encounter reveals how Hollywood creates its own bubbles. I hope Benjamin can realize how much people who know the film love it.

  2. @Mitchell Freedman: What a wonderful moment to have shared with a film maker, you must have made his day.

    Just FYI: The legend of Brooks and Flynn on Your Show of Shows has grown up around this wonderful movie, but Flynn never was on the show that Brooks wrote for.

    1. I always wondered about that as the only time I have seen Errol Flynn on any American television comedy show when I have looked it up on YouTube is The Abbott & Costello Show, where Flynn does a good but not great “Niagara Falls” bit (Sidney Fields did the best one in my observations…). Still, I remember hearing about the genesis of the film at the time that it came from Mel Brooks stories of being a young writer on Your Show of Shows. Perhaps there was some juxtaposing among different shows going on….

  3. Also a great favorite in our family and lots of quoting for various occasions. “In a moment I shall require a diversion” and “He’s got the jitters!?” are particular favorites.

  4. Another great O’Toole movie was “The Stunt Man,” in which he plays a movie director (possibly based on David Lean). It’s kind of a cult classic; played a lot at midnight shows in San Francisco repertory houses, back when we still had several of those.

  5. MFY is one of my favorite movies. Very early in our relationship, my (then) girlfriend (and now wife) had me over for “dinner and a movie.” I didn’t realize it was a test.

    At dinner, her cat jumped on the table and walked over to sniff at my plate. She said, “Just ignore him — he’s curious about what’s on the plate and doesn’t like people food.” I ignored him, and I was grateful she had a cat and not a dog. My dog would have been all over that plate.

    The movie was MFY. She said she knew I was a keeper when I laughed in all the right places. She also said she knew she’d been single way too long when she thought about what she said when the cat got on the table.

    MFY is still one of our favorite movies. My personal favorite moment is Lanie Kazan playing Richard Benjamin’s mother. “Welcome to our humble chapeau…”

  6. Haven’t seen it in years, but I’ve never forgotten this O’Toole line when he learns his show is being shot live: “I’m not an actor! I’m a movie star!”

  7. I have nothing more to add except to further agree with the previous commenters. “My Favorite Year” is a terrific movie. But of course so many of O’Toole’s movies are. The fact that he never won an Oscar is one of the great scandals of movie history, right up there with Barbara Stanwyck’s failure to win.

  8. I have always loved Peter O’Toole as an actor. I remember seeing on a talk show in the 1970’s and he was so charming. He told a hilarious story with the punchline, “My lord, O’Toole’s DRUNK!” I wonder how much fun the whole cast had with this madcap comedy…both on and off screen!

  9. As great as Peter O’Toole is in MY FAVORITE YEAR (and he is), as far as I’m concerned his crowning performance is in a film as yet unmentioned here, THE RULING CLASS. As the possibly insane 14th Earl of Gurney, who imagines himself to be Jesus Christ incarnate, O’Toole is unimaginably brilliant as he glides from amusing lunatic to glib song-and-dance man to oily and pragmatic nobleman. It’s a truly phenomenal performance, almost (but not quite) equaled by his return to the role of Henry II in THE LION IN WINTER, in which he faces off with the inimitable Katherine Hepburn as two of the more iconic characters from British history.

    I agree that it’s criminal that he was never received the Academy Award in competition. It’s mind-boggling that Hilary Swank has two and O’Toole has none.

    1. a film as yet unmentioned here, THE RULING CLASS

      Read the post again please, and you will see the link for my review of this film.

  10. I reviewed this movie for a middle school drama class. (Sorry if that makes others feel old. My students make me feel old too.) I’ve also seen it again more recently.

    It’s a very fun movie, with some great lines. (“Accordion lessons,” anyone?) But one sign of just how good O’Toole was is that nobody in these comments has yet paused to note–maybe didn’t even notice!–that Mark Linn-Baker, O’Toole’s costar in the movie, and in that scene, was *really* weak. I basically regard that movie as O’Toole triumphing in spite of doing the whole thing with a wombat on his back.

  11. O’Toole and I were neighbours (almost) – he bought a house in the West of Ireland town where I was born, and kept it as a residence for many years. He used to drive around in a bright red Mini with tinted windows – very flamboyant.

    A favourite actor of mine, who was unlucky not to have got an Oscar, but who did score an Honorary one.

  12. A story that went the rounds here (again).

    In the 1970s, O’Toole did some solo turns for the re-opening of a Dublin Theatre. Despite his Leeds birth, he prized his Irish connection (see the last post). He decided to read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, a suggestion that the privations of the Irish poor might be eased if they ate their own babies.

    However, a portion of the audience was unfamiliar with Swift, totally missed the Dean’s ironic “savage indignation”, and started to boo. Maybe O’Toole read with just too much of the gusto and energy he brought to his acting. But, like the great trouper he was, he finished his piece as if nothing had happened.

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