'Airplane!' anni has smooth take-off

HOLLYWOOD — Enduring cult laffer “Airplane!” saw its 25th-and-a-half anniversary feted by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Friday night, with a screening and Q&A featuring co-directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, plus thesps Robert Hays, Peter Graves and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

No one involved ever expected the pic to gross $83 million for Par, especially given that the disaster spoof was plagued by disaster at various points of production. “We were first-time directors, we had no idea what we were doing,” Jerry Zucker admitted.

In order to secure pic’s three-way directing credits, Jerry Zucker said he legally changed his name to “Abrahams and Zuckers,” so if the DGA turned down their petition, the credits would read correctly.

Of casting for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s part, David Zucker said, “We were trying to get the film financed for so long, originally it was Pete Rose.”

The L.A. Lakers pro said he was enticed by the prospect of poking fun at his own serious image, and so “I could say I was in a movie with Lloyd Bridges and Ethel Merman.” According to Jerry Zucker, his agent would not negotiate down from a $30,000 payout. “‘Kareem wants to buy a rug,” was the reasoning.

“To this day, whenever I fly, pilots always ask me if I want to tour the cockpit,” Jabbar said.

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