Wanted: The Missing
'Coffee Break' Scene
Written in 1997
A TIP from a Savant reader has begun a search for a missing musical number from United Artists' 1966 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. You wouldn't happen to have a print of it lying around, would you?
Mr. Henry Belot, while writing to Video Savant about another matter in July '97, asked the following question:
... I'd also be curious to know if there's a scene missing from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I saw it in 35mm in Vietnam and then later got access to a 16mm anamorphic print which some friends and I watched about three times, and I could swear the Coffee Break number was in the movie. It's on the soundtrack recording, and the record is obviously from the actual recordings made for the film. Or is my knowledge of the record playing tricks on my memory of the film?
Mr. Belot's question couldn't have been better timed. Having just located the ending for Kiss Me Deadly, this sounded like a sure thing to me - a fast kill. I went to work on the problem in three directions at once:
1) Archivist John Kirk of MGM Worldwide figured that the missing musical number would occur right at the part of the movie where the secretaries stop combing their hair long enough to yell '"Coffee break! - Well, it's about time!" As it plays now, the film then cuts to J. Pierrepont Finch's first day in the mailroom. John consulted the continuity script for Succeed, a document that details for lab people just where in each reel of film scenes and dialog happen. There was no mention of the missing scene, not even a missing number where the scene ought to be. But then John took note of the actual length of 35mm reel 2A, the reel the scene would have been in. It was only 625 feet in length. The rest of the reels were all around 900 feet, more like the average length of an individual 35mm feature reel. Assuming that reel 2A was short because 'Coffee Break' had been pulled after the reels were apportioned gave us an idea. John would
contact all the labs (and there are a number of them) around the world where negatives of Succeed were vaulted, and ask for the lengths of all the reels 2A to be checked. If one came out longer than 625 feet, we might make a find.
2) I have no Hollywood background in my family, but as it so happens I once worked with the son of one of the producers of Succeed in a Westwood theater in the early 1970's. He was in high school then, and I really hadn't seen him at all since about 1976. So I gave him a call. He had his own 16mm print of the film and was certain that the missing musical number was in it. Unfortunately, when he finally took the print out and checked it, it wasn't there after all.
3.) In the midst of this, a helpful MGM Home Video employee put me in touch with David Swift, the producer/director of Succeed. Mr. Swift was thrilled that I was looking for the footage, and hoped that it would be restored to the film; his recollection is that it was taken out for the sake of running time alone. He himself kept none of his films. Because Mr.
Swift lives right here in Santa Monica, we had a lunch together. He proceeded to floor me with details of his career, which ranged from writing for Disney in the 40's, creating the famous early TV show Mister Peepers directing live television in New York, and finally producing and directing the Hayley Mills films Pollyanna and the original The Parent Trap also for Disney.
Most amazing was Swift's account of working as a writer for Tex Avery at MGM. I leapt upon this as a great explanation for some of the wild cartoonish effects in the very-cartoonish Succeed, in particular the guillotine that literally comes out of nowhere to terminate one of the executives blocking Finch's corporate progress. Meeting Mr. Swift made the Coffee Break search worthwhile in itself. A fun tip: David Swift gave himself a cameo, as the elevator operator: "Make up your mind, Rosemary!"
As of the present moment, we haven't found COFFEE BREAK. The labs that checked back with John Kirk reported no suspiciously long reels. My own son Daniel proved he's a better Film Detective than Savant: when I described the unseen missing musical number to him, he picked up the laserdisc cover and said, 'You mean like this?' If you look at the key art on the laser, it shows a still of an platoon of office employees apparently begging for more coffee -- a scene not in the film we know. David Swift verified the still (seen at the bottom of the page) as being from the Coffee Break number.
So -- an appeal! Collectors, television stations, archives --- John Kirk of MGM Technical Services declares amnesty to anyone who brings in a 16mm or 35mm print or negative of the missing COFFEE BREAK musical number from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. No questions asked! Call anytime... Email... Thank you for your cooperation.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 1997 Glenn Erickson