My Favorite Hero

RemingtonEverybody has a favorite movie star.  For some of us, it’s an everyman, like Tom Hanks or Jimmy Stewart.  For some of us, it’s a sex symbol, like Marilyn Monroe or Jennifer Lopez.  For some of us, it’s an action hero.  The 1982 movie My Favorite Year pays homage to the last genre.  Set in 1954, My Favorite Year focuses on one week in the life of junior television comedy writer Benjy Stone and his idol, Alan Swann.

Benjy’s assignment is chaperoning Swann to make sure that the boozing actor is sober, prepared, and ready to be the guest star on Comedy Calvacade starring Stan “King” Kaiser and airing Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m. on NBC.  Mark Linn-Baker plays Benjy, Peter O’Toole plays Swann, and Joe Bologna plays King.

My Favorite Year takes us on a journey through Benjy’s eyes as he balances between being Swann’s friend and his idolater.  It’s a wonderful tale about hero worship, identity, and fame.  On the day of the show, the legendary actor reveals that his name is Clarence Duffy.  Alan Swann is a fictional name created by a Hollywood studio in the 1930s, a common practice back then.  He also reveals that his reason for being on Comedy Calvacade is to satisfy a debt to the IRS.

Later that day, Swann tries to reach out to his estranged 12-year-old daughter, Tess.  But when he arrives at the house in Connecticuty, he can’t even bring himself to get out of the car.  Swann instructs his driver, Alfie, to take him back to Manhattan.  When Swann finds out that Comedy Calvacade is broadcast live, with no chance of an additional take, he destroys his quasi-sobriety.  Benjy calls his hero’s bluff, telling Swann that he didn’t even have the courage to see his daughter, so ignoring the commitment to the show is not a surprise.  He tells Alfie to take Swann back to the Waldorf.  Alfie, disgusted with Swann by this point, throws the keys at Swann.  It’s a turning point because Alfie is more than a loyal driver when Swann visits New York City; he is Swann’s confidante.

The movie’s emotional climax occurs when Swann makes his way into the halls of 30 Rockefeller Center, encounters Benjy, and claims humanity in the face of fame.  He screams that he’s just a man, not the hero he portrays in the movies.  Benjy counters with the lament of any idol worshipper.  “Don’t tell me you’re life size!  I can’t use you life size!  I need Alan Swanns as big as I can get them.  What does it matter if it was an illusion?  It worked!”

While Benjy and Swann go to the studio’s balcony, the henchmen of a union boss are also headed there to pummel King Kaiser in front of 40 million people; Boss Carl Rojeck doesn’t like Kaiser’s parody of him as Boss Hijack.  A fight ensues on the Boss Hijack set.  Alan Swann then becomes that hero that he portrayed in movies, including A Slight Case of Divorce, Captain From Tortuga, Defender of the Crown, and The Last Knight of the Round Table.  With improvisation, athleticism, and grace, Swann grabs a rope, swings down to the stage, and joins King in beating up the henchmen.  The studio audience erupts in applause because the scene appears to be planned.  King grins at Swann and introduces him after whispering, “What took you so long?”

Already dressed as a swashbuckler for a musketeer sketch later in the show, the scene of Swann swinging by a rope to save the day parallels an earlier scene from an Alan Swann movie that Benjy screens for the writing staff.  The characters and setting of My Favorite Year are loosely based on fact.  Alan Swann and Errol Flynn.  King Kaiser and Sid Caesar.  Comedy Calvacade and Your Show of Shows.

The writing, producing, and broadcasting of Comedy Calvacade takes place at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City, the same site for the writing, producing, and broadcasting of Your Show of Shows.  Mel Brooks was a writer on Your Show of Shows.  His company produced My Favorite Year.

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