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TURNER MOVIE CLASSICS recently aired Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days, 1956. This got me thinking about the marvelous tale by Jules Verne in his novel, Le Tour du Monde en 80 Jours, 1873. A bit more sleuthing revealed an early French stage production, a musical adaptation by no less than Cole Porter and Orson Welles, and one of the most expensive box office flops in all time. Here are tidbits about Around the World in Five Genres.
Verne’s Original. In 1872, Jules Verne serialized the adventures of English eccentric Phileas Fogg and his valet Jean Passepartout in their quest to circle the world in 80 days. Verne’s story starts in London, on Wednesday, October 2, 1872, and, indeed, some readers of the serial took it to be factual. Like the goings-on at the novel’s Reform Club, actual betting took place.
Wikipedia notes, “In 1889, Nellie Bly undertook to travel around the world in 80 days for her newspaper, the New York World. She managed to do the journey within 72 days, meeting Verne in Amiens. Her book Around the World in Seventy-Two Days became a best seller.
A personal note: We students learning French in the 1950s admired our teacher’s commitment to total-immersion techniques: She displayed considerable dexterity in describing, en français totalement, that passpartout is French for “skeleton key.”
The Théâtre du Châtelet Production. In 1874, Verne and Adolphe d’Ennery adapted the 80 Days tale into a stage production at Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet. This theater, opened in 1862, was part of Baron Haussmann’s Paris renovation.
Le Tour du Monde en 80 Jours opened at the theater in 1880 and continued for 2492 performances. It closed, forced by Nazi occupation orders, in 1941.
The Cole Porter/Orson Welles Musical. With music and lyrics by Cole Porter and book by Orson Welles, Around the World opened on Broadway in May 1946 and closed after only 75 performances.
With characteristic exuberance, Welles transformed his favorite childhood book into a spectacular (spelled $$$) Broadway musical. Among other features, it had a mechanized eagle snatching an actor from the stage, four mechanical elephants, a live elephant, and a complete Japanese circus troupe. Welles wanted its 38 sets designed in the style of Georges Méliès.
Around the World was one of the Welles/Houseman Mercury Production offerings. As such, it is broadcast from time to time on SiriusXM’s “Radio Classics.”
The Mike Todd Spectacular. Mike Todd had invested in the Porter/Welles musical, but wisely pulled out before loosing considerable cash. Less than a decade later, he produced the film version of Around the World in 80 Days, 1956. Again the word “spectacular” applied, with even the bottom line qualifying.
David Niven portrayed Phileas Fogg. Mexican comedian Cantinflas portrayed Passpartout. Indeed, so popular was the latter that he received top billing over Niven in Latin American markets.
Cameo appearances in the Todd production add to the fun. A total of 51 well-known personages include Noel Coward (as a London employment agency manager), Sir John Gielgud (Fogg’s fired valet), Charles Boyer (a balloon enthusiast), José Greco (in a flamenco sequence), Peter Lorre (ship steward), George Raft (saloon bouncer), Marlene Dietrich (saloon hostess), and Frank Sinatra (saloon pianist).
By the way, the intrepid travelers’ balloon adventure isn’t part of Verne’s original. On the other hand, Verne’s 1863 Five Weeks in a Balloon introduced the concept in the first of his 54 novels.
A 2004 Debacle. A 2004 remake of Around the World in 80 Days had martial artist Jackie Chan portraying Passpartout/Lau Xing, whose robbing the Bank of England resonates with the Verne tale, sort of. Matters stray from the original big time in what Wikipedia describes as an “American action adventure comedy.”
In 2014, the Los Angeles Times listed the film as “one of the most expensive box office flops of all time.”
My recommendations. Enjoy Cole Porter songs in Mercury Production’s Around the World and have fun recognizing cameos in Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days. Oh yes, and there’s also the Verne version, in English or en français. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021