Monday, February 26, 2018


According to Oscar-winning Doctor Dolittle composer/writer Leslie Bricusse, the 1967 musical fantasy was initially conceived as a reunion of the My Fair Lady Broadway team: star Rex Harrison, lyricist and book writer Alan Jay Lerner, composer Frederick Loewe, and director Moss Hart.

Dr. Dolittle, played by Rex Harrison, in the company of Chee-Chee the Chimpanzee, Polynesia the Parrot and, last but not least, the Great Pink Sea Snail! 

Bricusse and the film’s leading lady Samantha Eggar will be on hand at the Aero Theatre Saturday, March 3, 2018 after a matinee screening of gorgeous new 4K restoration of Doctor Dolittle, the 1967 musical based on Hugh Lofting’s famous stories about a Victorian British doctor who can talk to animals – including a giant pink sea snail!

“When they did ‘Camelot” on Broadway in the early 1960s, the director died,” says Bricusse. “Fritz Loewe had a heart attack and Alan Jay Lerner had a nervous breakdown." Bricusse, who had penned such Broadway hit musicals as 1963’s Stop the World - I Want to Get Off and 1965’s The Roar of The Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd starring Anthony Newley, was just the cure for the troubled production.

Arthur P. Jacobs, the producer of Doctor Dolittle, was a friend of Bricusse and Newley, because he had liked their Broadway collaborations. “I showed him a musical that I was doing on Noah’s Ark and he went to Fox and said, ‘I found a guy who writes songs about animals.’ Literally that’s how it happened.”

Harrison (who had won the lead actor Oscar for the 1964 film version of My Fair Lady), Eggar (who had earned an Oscar nomination for the 1965 thriller The Collector), Newley, and Richard Attenborough starred in this lavish musical about a man who withdraws from humanity and surrounds himself with animal friends, some real and some imagined creatures (such as the pushmi-pullyu).

Rex Harrison and Leslie BricussePhotographs and logo courtesy of and ©1967 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Used With Permission.
Though critics and audiences didn’t exactly jump for joy when the film was released, the film, directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage), earned nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture, winning for Bricusse’s song “Talk to the Animals” and special visual effects.

Bricusse, 87, was familiar with Lofting’s stories but had never read any of them. “But I arrived here on day one and there were 12 Doolittle books waiting for me. I educated myself on the spot,” he says.

In fact, on his first day in Los Angeles “I thought ‘what is this show about?’ Without reading any of the books I wrote ‘Talk to the Animals’ because that was my guideline to the piece. That was the start of it. “

Besides “Talk to the Animals,” the score also includes such tunes as “After Today,” “My Friend the Doctor,” “The Vegetarian,” “Beautiful Things,” and “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It.”

“You realize that writing for a musical is easier than just writing a song,” noted Bricusse. “In a musical you know the context of the song. You know what the person has to stay-the know the character of the person. You have two things going for you before you begin.”

Samantha Eggar plays Emma Fairfax, the niece of a local general whose fox hunt is sabotaged by Doolittle. Eventually she becomes fascinated by the doctor and his peculiar ways and ultimately stows away on his voyage to floating Sea-Star Island.
Samantha Eggar and Rex Harrison in Doctor DolittlePhotographs and logo courtesy of and ©1967 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Used With Permission.

Doctor Dolittle was Eggar’s only movie musical.  “You never want to get pegged,” she said. “I always said to my agents ‘I want to cover everything.’ Little did I know I’d be given a musical with Rex Harrison or a comedy [Walk Don’t Run] with Cary Grant.”

And the musical is probably her favorite film she’s been in because “it encompasses everything about making a beautiful film. Not only a film, but a musical with every kind of art involved - locations, the direction, obviously incredible actors. And of course, not least of all, the animals.”

Eggar, a lifelong vegetarian and animal lover, noted that “there have been countless films about animals, but never a film about the treatment of animals and the awareness of every creature on this planet. I remember reading eons ago that Hugh Lofting was so disturbed by the horses and mules being put down in World War I that that had goaded him into [writing the stories]. So, for me, this film was the perfect message to impart.”

The film took almost a year to complete. “We were in three different locations,” said Eggar. “Those animals came with us. We started here, went to England and then we went to St. Lucia.”

She also became pregnant with her daughter, actress Jenna Stern, during production. “It’s funny,” Eggar noted. “I was talking to my daughter the other day and we were laughing. She said, ‘well, there are three people in this scene, mama. Tony Newley, you and me.”

By the time the production had completed “I was far enough along that they couldn’t shoot my waistline anymore. And my boobs were getting bigger, which of course I loved, because I never had any.”

Samantha Eggar, who will be joining us on Saturday, and Rex Harrison, of  "My Fair Lady" fame. 

Eggar got along with the notoriously difficult Harrison “splendidly," though IMDb claims he was known as "tyrannosaurus Rex" on the set).

“I had known Rex socially anyway because we were going to do a film quite a way before that in London,” she said. “Rex made me laugh. He had a very cryptic sense of humor, but he was a funny.”

Bricusse is returning to Doolittle; fans will be happy to hear that he’s been writing new “things” for a revised stage production of the musical opening in London later this year.

“It’s got some wonderful new things in it, things they can only do on the stage,” he said.

One of the film's most enchanting animal characters, the famous "pushi-pullyu" 

If you’ve never seen Doctor Dolittle on the big screen, don’t miss this opportunity to see the adventure classic with an supreme appreciation for animals. As is said of the Pushmi-Pullyu (said to be a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn), “You’ll never see anything like it in your life!”

Click here for program details.

Veteran journalist Susan King wrote about entertainment at the Los Angeles Times for 26 years (January 1990 - March 2016), specializing in classic Hollywood stories. She also wrote about independent, foreign and studio movies and occasionally TV and theater stories. She received her master's degree in film history and criticism at USC. After working 10 years at the L.A. Herald Examiner, she moved to the Los Angeles Times.