‘Doctor’ orders plenty of f/x

GOOD MORNING: Dear President Clinton, you are not the only Chief Executive who has been digitally dropped into a movie. Monday at CBS Radford on Stage 10, I visited with Eddie Murphy and 20th Century Fox’s “Doctor Dolittle” company. While director Betty Thomas watched the action with Murphy and a capuchin monkey via her monitor, special effects supervisor Jon Farhat was watching another monitor — his with capabilities of split-screening, catching action of three other cameras under d.p. Russell. It’s part of an intricate process that Farhat said is twice as difficult as the job he did on “The Nutty Professor.” Director Thomas said the pic will require almost a year in post to get ready for the Memorial Day opening. (Back to the “Presidential” insertions: Farhat revealed that in the scene in “My Fellow Americans” in which Jack Lemmon and James Garner, as ex-Presidents, were seen wildly racing on horseback, neither was even on a horse. Lemmon’s and Garner’s faces were digitally inserted atop the bodies of stuntmen who were aboard the horses.) Now, as Eddie Murphy did a scene with the monkey, cameras were busy capturing the action that will add the capuchin’s mouth “voicing” dialog with Murphy — plus there will be many additions to the set (repping Dr. Dolittle’s SanFran apartment), which will be enriched with dozens of other animals, also carrying on conversations! I asked Murphy what made him decide to do the movie, a contempo version of the ’67 Rex Harrison starrer. “It was the funniest script,” he said. Producers John Davis and David Friendly proudly told me the movie went from a one-line presentation to the stage in 18 months.

I HAD VISITED WITH REX HARRISON on the 1966 set of “Doctor Dolittle” at Fox and asked him about his patience in working with the animals. “I was just as patient working on ‘My Fair Lady,’ ” he winked between takes involving a hundred or so animals, birds, etc. on that stage — no digital insertions there. Harrison added, “The animals never worried me, it was the character of Doctor Dolittle. At one stage, I thought it wasn’t right for me.” Harrison was in-out of the film several times and drove producer Arthur P. Jacobs and director Dick Fleischer mad. Finally, Rex got a piece of the action — something he did not get for “My Fair Lady.” Fleischer today tells me, “Rex was a perfectionist and he insisted on eye contact with the animals. He stopped a scene with a pig, said ‘He (the pig) wasn’t looking at me!’ ” Fleischer has had four of his films remade: “Doctor D.,” “The Narrow Margin” “20,000 Leagues” and the upcoming “Fantastic Voyage.” I asked what he thought of Murphy playing Dolittle. “He’s a marvelous actor,” said the veteran director. “He could do ‘Mary Poppins’ next!” Murphy gets a multimillion-$salary and percentage as well. While the original “Doctor D.” cost $15 million, a record for Fox, producers Davis and Friendly wouldn’t reveal the cost of this one but allowed, “It’s not expensive — and under $100 million. But we have Eddie Murphy!” Eddie looked appropriate in his demeanor (with stethoscope), as he talked to the (ailing) monkey, chiding it for hiding a (small) bottle of Jack Daniels. “But I’m only a social drinker,” the monkey “said.” Murphy ordered the capuchin to take a sobriety test: to touch its nose and lift its right leg. It did so, gingerly. “Nobody loves a drunk monkey,” Murphy ad libbed. The set broke up. Everyone was ordered not to laugh at Murphy’s (many) ad libs, which, of course, remain in the movie. There are 19 celeb voices to be inserted into the mouths of the animals, Betty Thomas’ partner Jenno Topping related: Martin Lawrence is the tiger, Garry Shandling and Julie Kavner pigeons, Norman MacDonald a dog, John Leguizamo and Reni Santoni as rats (to whom Murphy gives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation), Chris Rock a guinea pig, Jean Stapleton’s the owl, etc. Thomas’s two dogs also do a walk-on. William Sherak, John Davis’ staffer (and Tom Sherak’s son) plays the frog-dog: half frog, half dog! There was to have been a bear in the pic, but Betty Thomas said its manager wanted “opening title credits.” They couldn’t bear it!

EDDIE MURPHY PLANS A HEFTY program of pix, then a long break to spend time with his wife and three children — and hopes for another, a second boy. Next professionally is “The Holy Man,” in which he’ll shave his head. Then the “Nutty Professor” sequel, followed by “Toddlers” with Chris Farley, in which they’ll play 3-year-olds “so I’ll also have to shave my moustache,” laughed Murphy. He also has a four-week stint with Steve Martin in “Bowfinger, the Big Thing” before taking his long vacation from work. Meanwhile, John Davis says his banner will do a remake of Robert Aldrich’s “Flight of the Phoenix,” “Flawless” for Disney and the “FEMA” (asteroids yarn) series for NBC. … Thomas and Topping team again at Par in “Male Pattern Baldness.” Thomas told me she wishes the (civilian) press would not write about the special effects and movie magic until after the movie is released. But the producers are boasting that the effects in this human-animal movie are “a step beyond ‘Babe.’ ” And that their animals “have attitude. They’re hip,” added Davis. They have to be when “working” with Murphy! The moviemakers remind that their pic involves the combined talents of CGI, animatronics and live action. P.S.: They’re already talking about a sequel.

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