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Cleopatra (1963) Poster

(1963)

Trivia

Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz hoped that this movie would be released as two separate movies, "Caesar and Cleopatra", followed by "Antony and Cleopatra". Each was to run approximately three hours. Twentieth Century Fox decided against this, and released the movie we know today. It runs just over three hours. It is hoped that the missing two hours will be located and that one day a six-hour "Director's Cut" will be available.
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A clerical error by Twentieth Century Fox probably cost Roddy McDowall a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination for his performance in this movie. The studio erroneously listed him as a leading player rather than a supporting one. When Fox asked the Academy to correct the error, it refused, saying the ballots were already at the printer. Fox then published an open letter in the trade papers, apologizing to McDowall: "We feel that it is important that the industry realize that your electric performance as Octavian in 'Cleopatra,' which was unanimously singled out by the critics as one of the best supporting performances by an actor this year, is not eligible for an Academy Award nomination in that category . . . due to a regrettable error on the part of Twentieth Century Fox."
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The scene showing Cleopatra's (Dame Elizabeth Taylor's) navy required huge numbers of boats and ships. It was said at the time that Twentieth Century Fox had the world's third largest navy.
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Adjusted for inflation, this is one of the most expensive movies ever made. Its budget of forty-four million dollars is equivalent to approximately three hundred forty-four million dollars in 2016 dollars.
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In principle, Twentieth Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, did not object to Joseph L. Mankiewicz's idea to make two three-hour movies. However, he knew the public was obsessed with the Dame Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton affair, and would not show up for the first part, in which Burton did not appear. The two parts were edited into one movie.
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When this movie finally broke even in 1973, Twentieth Century Fox "closed the books" on it, keeping all future profits secret to avoid paying those who might have been promised a percentage of the profits.
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Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was never proud of this movie, and only stayed for his friend, Dame Elizabeth Taylor. At one point, he even tried to have his name taken off.
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Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was fired during post-production, due to the quarrels with the then-newly reinstalled Fox President Darryl F. Zanuck over the nature of editing the movie's length. Since he wrote the script as he was shooting, Twentieth Century Fox soon realized that only Mankiewicz knew how the story fit together. He was, then, brought back to complete the project.
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor's contract stipulated that her salary be paid out as follows: one hundred twenty-five thousand dollars for sixteen weeks of work, fifty thousand dollars a week afterward, and ten percent of the gross (with no break-even point). When filming restarted in Rome in 1961, she had earned well over two million dollars. In 1963, Twentieth Century Fox sued Taylor and Richard Burton for fifty million dollars. Taylor countersued, and the studio finally settled in 1966. Her ultimate take for this movie was seven million dollars.
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When this movie was cut from six hours to four, forty-nine pages of re-shoots were required to make sense of the changes.
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Filming of Cleopatra's entrance into Rome was delayed for several months due to lighting problems. The American child actor who played her four-year-old son got taller during the delay. He was replaced by an Italian boy, complete with a thick, inappropriate accent.
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The budget for Dame Elizabeth Taylor's costumes, one hundred ninety-four thousand eight hundred dollars, was the highest ever for a single screen actress. Her sixty-five costumes included a dress made from 24-carat gold cloth.
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Cleopatra's entrance into Rome was nearly ruined when enthusiastic extras started shouting "Liz! Liz!" instead of "Cleopatra! Cleopatra!"
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor had met Richard Burton several years prior to their working together on this movie, and had found him to be brutish and boorish. However, when Burton showed up for work on this movie on his first day, it was with a hangover so severe that he had the shakes. Taylor had to help him around and administer to such basic needs as helping him drink a cup of coffee. This time, she found him to be very endearing.
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The Roman forum built at Cinecitta was three times the size of the real thing.
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This movie is widely regarded as one of the biggest flops of all time. It was actually the highest-grossing movies of 1963, making it and The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966) the only two movies to be the highest-grossing of their respective years, yet still run at a loss. Once it opened, it was sold out for the next four months. In 1966, ABC paid Twentieth Century Fox a record five million dollars for two showings of the movie, a deal that put the movie in the black. If if hadn't suffered all of its false starts, re-shoots and delays, the movie could have been brought in for less than half of what the studio ended up spending. If its final cost had been in the fifteen million dollar to twenty-four million dollar range (which would have bought all the production value that did end up on-screen), it would have been enormously profitable. In the end, production was a debacle because the studio, under the leadership of Spyros P. Skouras, was inept and unprepared. Television and home video revenue finally allowed the movie to turn a profit.
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Seventy-nine sets were constructed for the movie, and twenty-six thousand costumes were created.
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A group of female extras who played Cleopatra's servants and slave girls went on-strike to demand protection from the Italian male extras. The studio eventually hired a special guard to protect the female extras. In the gossip press, it became known as "The Revolt of the Slave Girls".
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Egypt initially refused to let Dame Elizabeth Taylor in because she has converted to Judaism when she married Eddie Fisher. They changed their minds when they realized the movie's presence would put millions of American dollars into the economy.
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This movie has no big final battle sequence because the studio couldn't afford one.
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While making of the movie, Dame Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton began a love-hate relationship, including being married and divorced twice, which lasted until his death.
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This is the first of eleven theatrical movies in which Dame Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred together.
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By the time Rouben Mamoulian was fired, he'd been on the movie sixteen weeks. Seven million dollars of production costs yielded ten minutes of usable film.
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Cleopatra's barge alone cost about two million dollars in today's dollars.
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Martin Landau was booked to play Euphranor. When no one could be found to play Rufio, Landau was re-cast.
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Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz told Martin Landau that he had enough cut footage to make another movie called "The Further Adventures of Octavian and Rufio".
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A clause in Sir Rex Harrison's contract required a picture of him to appear in any ad with a picture of Richard Burton. When a large billboard showed only Burton and Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Harrison's lawyers complained. The studio tried to fulfill the contract by placing a picture of Harrison in the lower left corner of the billboard. Harrison was not satisfied. A third version of the same billboard on the Seventh Avenue side of the Rivoli Theatre was created with Harrison standing on Taylor's right.
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In Anzio, while building the Alexandria set, a few construction workers were killed by an unexploded mine left over from World War II.
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Dame Joan Collins was cast in the title role in 1958, but after several delays she became unavailable. After Collins' departure, Producer Walter Wanger considered Susan Hayward, Audrey Hepburn, and Sophia Loren as replacements. Wanger then called Dame Elizabeth Taylor on the set of her latest movie, Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), and relayed an offer through her then-husband Eddie Fisher, who had answered the phone. At first, she rejected the offer. When Wanger asked again, she thought about it some more and replied "Sure, tell him I'll do it for a million dollars." Wanger agreed, shocking Taylor and Twentieth Century Fox President Spyros Skouras. When the public expressed great interest in Taylor being cast as Cleopatra, Fox sought out to hire her for the movie. On October 15, 1959, Twentieth Century Fox became the first studio ever to pay a star one million dollars for a single role.
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With the scandal surrounding the affair between Richard Burton and Dame Elizabeth Taylor, scant attention was paid to Sir Rex Harrison. He got the last laugh when he became the only one of the movie's three stars to receive an Oscar nomination for his performance.
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor demanded that this movie be shot in the large, 70mm Todd-AO format system. She owned the rights to the system as the widow of the format system's creator: Mike Todd.
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After long days of shooting, Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz would retire to his private rooms to do re-writes. He initially begged for time off to do a proper re-write, but Twentieth Century Fox was so deeply in debt that they couldn't allow another delay in production. Mankiewicz resorted to daily injections to keep him going during the day, and different ones at night to help him sleep.
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In the five-plus-hour version, Cleopatra (Dame Elizabeth Taylor) takes Appolodorus (Cesare Danova) as her occasional lover, but these scenes were eliminated in the three hour and twelve minute version, though there are hints throughout as to their relationship.
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While filming the Battle of Actium off the Italian island of Ischia, a producer invited Richard Burton and Dame Elizabeth Taylor for lunch on his yacht and placed hidden cameras in their room in the hope of capturing and then selling pictures of them kissing. Taylor spotted the cameras immediately, and Burton had to be restrained from attacking the host.
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Sir Rex Harrison was one of Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's most passionate allies. At one point, Harrison offered up his own salary to help the production. Mankiewicz refused to let him do that.
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Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz referred to this as "the toughest three pictures I ever made."
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John DeCuir rebuilt the massive set of Alexandria three times.
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor reputedly threw up the first time she saw the finished product.
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During Cleopatra's entry into Rome, the shots of the entry of Cleopatra's giant sphinx, and the parade that precedes it, were filmed several months apart, posing problems in matching the lighting.
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In order to keep Dame Elizabeth Taylor happy, Twentieth Century Fox chairman Spyros Skouras had Los Angeles restaurant Chasen's famous Maude's Chili air-freighted to Italy for her.
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Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's first cut ran five hours and twenty minutes. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck's first reaction was that Mark Antony was ineffectual, many of the scenes were too long, and the battle scenes were amateurish.
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During the early filming at Pinewood Studios, the harsh weather conditions of the English winter brought on pneumonia for the fragile Dame Elizabeth Taylor. After a day at the set in which she had to be carried on and off because she was so weak, Taylor eventually collapsed in her hotel room at the Dorchester. The private doctor of Queen Elizabeth II was summoned to her hotel room. According to Taylor, he apparently shook her violently like a rag doll and pounded on her rib cage, provoking no consciousness within her. She was given an hour to live and was said to be in a coma. An emergency tracheotomy was performed successfully at the hospital and Taylor slowly recovered. Filming proceeded a few months later, this time in Rome's hot climate.
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Soon after shooting began in England, Dame Elizabeth Taylor became ill and could not work. Her presence was required for almost every scene, and production soon closed down. Director Rouben Mamoulian finally resigned on January 3, 1961. He was followed by Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd, who had to honor prior commitments.
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor's overall take of seven million dollars is equivalent to approximately fifty-five million in 2016 dollars.
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This movie's initial North American box-office take was forty-eight million dollars, the highest-grossing film of the year. Fox's share of the receipts was twenty-six million dollars, half of the total production costs. This movie eventually recouped its budget through worldwide box-office receipts and television sales, but the studio had to cut costs drastically to survive. the studio managed to stay afloat with the success of The Longest Day (1962). Twentieth Century Fox then invested in the The Sound of Music (1965), which became the most financially successful movie ever at that time, turning the studio's finances around.
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By June 6, the Italian shoot was spending nearly seventy thousand dollars per day, and the movie cost three million dollars more than Ben-Hur (1959).
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When the historical Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty, killed herself with a cobra bite, Egypt became a province of Rome.
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor's life had been threatened after the Vatican had denounced her scandalous relationship with Richard Burton. During the filming of the scene in which Cleopatra makes her entrance into Rome, the thousands of Roman Catholics that were the extras became a serious concern. Soldiers packing guns lined the streets with barriers and cables to try and prevent an assassination. As Taylor came through the arch, the crowd broke through the barriers and cables all at once. But as Elizabeth and the movie crew feared for her life, she realized that they were shouting "bacio Liz!! Bacio Liz", declaring their love for the actress. Instead of remaining in the highly strung character of Cleopatra, Taylor began to cry and thank the crowd as she blew kisses, and the scene had to be re-shot.
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After firing Rouben Mamoulian as director, Walter Wanger and Darryl F. Zanuck approached Sir Alfred Hitchcock to take over the project. Hitchcock refused and chose to make The Birds (1963) instead.
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According to Sir Rex Harrison's autobiography, Twentieth Century Fox custom-made his Julius Caesar boots while Richard Burton's boots were hand-me-downs from the previous attempt at making the movie. Harrison was amazed that Burton did not complain.
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Marlon Brando was sought to reprise his role as Mark Antony from Julius Caesar (1953), but he was attached to Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).
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Production moved from London to Rome following Dame Elizabeth Taylor's illness, and the movie's elaborate sets and props all had to be constructed twice. The production required so much lumber and raw material that building materials became scarce throughout Italy.
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When Twentieth Century Fox decided to salvage the production of this movie following the resignation of original director Rouben Mamoulian, the studio gave Dame Elizabeth Taylor another demand in her contract which no other actor or actress had up until that time: director approval, of which it was unheard. The studio gave her that demand so that she can work well with a director of her choice, re-work the entire movie to make it a whole lot better, and help get the production on a good track. Taylor would only approve two possible replacements: George Stevens or Joseph L. Mankiewicz. With Stevens busy directing the big-budget epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Fox executives turned to Mankiewicz. He only agreed to direct the movie after rejecting the offer a couple of times before.
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When Walter Wanger's first choice for director insisted that Julius Caesar was gay, Twentieth Century Fox chairman Spyros Skouras told the producer not to hire him. Skouras reasoned, "To hell with history. I want a triangle with two men and one woman. Having one of the greatest men in history as a homo isn't box-office!"
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor had sixty-five costume changes for this movie, a record for a movie at the time. That record was taken from Taylor by Dame Julie Andrews in 1968 when she played the lead role in Star! (1968), which is also another movie produced and distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. Based on the life of the actress Gertrude Lawrence, Star! (1968) saw Andrews change costumes a staggering one hundred twenty-five times, a record still unbroken or unmatched to this day. Dame Joan Collins and Madonna came close with eighty-five costume changes for the mini-series Sins (1986) and the big-budget musical epic movie Evita (1996), respectively.
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At the time, all Italian movies were dubbed in post-production. Carpenters constantly hammered on the set during filming. Joseph L. Mankiewicz spent hours trying to make it clear to the Italian crew that silence was required on set at all times.
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When the Marilyn Monroe vehicle Something's Got to Give (1962) was shelved due to budget overruns and an unreliable star, this movie became the only one in production at Twentieth Century Fox.
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Twentieth Century Fox was in financial trouble in the late 1950s due to disappointing box-office returns of some major releases. Orders were given to search the Fox script library for a proven property that could be remade. The project chosen was Cleopatra (1917), a Theda Bara movie that had been a smash hit for the studio. With no surviving prints, they based their judgment on an archived copy of the original script and some stills from the production. Then the studio needed a producer willing to handle the project. At the same time, veteran Producer Walter Wanger approached Twentieth Century Fox with an idea for a project he'd been planning for several years: the story of Cleopatra. In the words of David Brown, "We fell on him."
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor said of the finished, three hour and twelve minute movie, "They had cut out the heart, the essence, the motivations, the very core, and tacked on all those battle scenes. It should have been about three large people, but it lacked reality and passion. I found it vulgar."
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Millions of dollars' worth of props and other equipment were stolen by studio employees.
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When Joseph L. Mankiewicz came on-board as director after the departure of Rouben Mamoulian, he inherited a movie that was already seven million dollars over budget and with only ten usable minutes of footage to show for it, and those ten minutes would not be used in the finished movie.
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz originally wanted black actor James Edwards as Apollodorus and encouraged the actor to physically get in shape for the role. Unfortunately, Fox executives were not comfortable with the relationship between him and Cleopatra, so he was replaced by Cesare Danova.
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While filming Cleopatra's entry into Rome, a scene requiring thousands of extras and the pulling of a huge sphinx carrying the Queen of Egypt and her son between its paws, Joseph L. Mankiewicz said a master shot was spoiled because the camera caught an enterprising extra hawking gelato to his fellow extras.
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Martin Landau learned Italian during the shoot.
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Martin Landau was cast after Joseph L. Mankiewicz admired his performance in North by Northwest (1959). Mankiewicz called up Sir Alfred Hitchcock to ask him if he could act.
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Filming began in 1960.
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz originally wanted to have either Sir Laurence Olivier or Trevor Howard as Julius Caesar. Olivier was running the National Theatre of Great Britain, and Howard was caught up in the protracted filming of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).
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Ten people (seven Art Directors, three Set Decorators) won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Color). It remains the largest number of people sharing a single award in an annual category. In 1988 and 2006, twelve people shared a Scientific and Technical Award, which is not necessarily given each year.
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Amongst the many scenes that were cut in the three hour and twelve minute version, was Cleopatra using Egyptian gold to bribe Roman Senators into inviting her and Caesar to Rome.
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The finished script was as thick as the Beverly Hills phonebook.
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Robert Stephens said in a radio interview that most of his part was deleted from the final print.
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Twentieth Century Fox decided to make "Cleopatra" in mid 1959. Once Walter Wanger came on board as producer, Spyros Skouras, then-President of the studio after Darryl F. Zanuck's departure, ordered the movie to be made on a three hundred thousand dollar budget and allowed six weeks to write the script and find a director, as well as four months to shoot. The plan was then to rush the movie to theaters as soon as possible. Wanger was also forced to cast the title role from amongst the Fox contract actresses. The producer was appalled by what Skouras demanded and protested. He had dreamt of making a movie about Cleopatra for years, and didn't want the project to turn into another "sword and sandal quickie." Wanger, then, hired Academy Award-winning Production Designer John DeCuir (The King and I (1956)) to create exotic, romantic concept sketches and models for presentation to Fox executives. Thanks to his spectacular display of inter corporate salesmanship, Wanger showed the executives, essentially, what they could have if they opened their minds. Where he saw beauty and vision in the movie, Fox executives saw the possibility for bigger profits. As a result, the movie was no longer considered a B-movie project. The budget had been increased to nearly five million dollars and bigger stars would now be considered for the title role. Susan Hayward, Audrey Hepburn, and Sophia Loren were initially considered, but Wanger had another star in mind: Dame Elizabeth Taylor.
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When Producer Walter Wanger was removed from the production, it ended his movie career.
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Alex North was chosen to score the movie after Joseph L. Mankiewicz's son Christopher Mankiewicz told him that North had done a magnificent job in composing the score for Spartacus (1960).
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The dragged-out production cost Martin Landau a part in Federico Fellini's (1963).
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This movie has been cited as one factor that ended the Italian-made "sword and sandal" epics that had been popular since the late 1950s. Specialized suppliers raised their prices for goods and services supplied to this production. The higher prices were beyond the budget of Italian producers, so production values for their movies dropped, and audiences declined.
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Richard Burton and Roddy McDowall took supporting roles in Twentieth Century Fox's The Longest Day (1962) purely to relieve the boredom and nightmares of this movie's production.
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When it seemed like Dame Elizabeth Taylor wouldn't recover from her illness, Audrey Hepburn was considered to replace her.
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The asp used for the finale scene was not venom free.
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Hume Cronyn (Sosigenes) was originally signed to be on the movie for ten weeks. He stayed with the production for ten and a half months.
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When Milton Berle was asked if he'd seen this movie yet, his reply was "I never miss a Hume Cronyn picture!"
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Darryl F. Zanuck was still a stockholder in Twentieth Century Fox and became convinced that this movie would destroy the studio. Fox's problems nearly led to the studio taking over the editing of The Longest Day (1962), which Zanuck was producing, in order to increase the number of shows per day and make an even bigger profit. When Zanuck heard of this, that was the last straw. He staged a boardroom takeover of the studio and won. As a result, Spyros Skouras was ousted from Fox and Zanuck took over. The Longest Day (1962) was saved.
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Brigitte Bardot, Dame Joan Collins, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, Dolores Michaels, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Sue Parker, Millie Perkins, Barbara Steele, Joanne Woodward, and Dana Wynter were considered to play Cleopatra. Collins and Woodward were the only ones of the aforementioned actresses to do a screentest.
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The financial failure of this movie was a key factor in the disintegration of the old "studio system", as studios passed responsibility for production costs to independent production companies instead of handling said costs themselves. The old "studio system" would later be resurrected with the release of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), which is another Twentieth Century Fox production.
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Sir Michael Hordern (Cicero) described the filming of the nine-minute sequence where Cleopatra enters Rome in his 1993 autobiography. He remembers that the doves that were supposed to fly out of the miniature pyramid when it opened had grown very drowsy in the Roman heat and remained inside, so a crew member had to hide inside to shoo them out at the right moment, not a pleasant job as the birds defecated liberally.
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Marilyn Monroe believed that Twentieth Century Fox fired her from Something's Got to Give (1962), so that her salary could go toward finishing the troubled Cleopatra. Twenty years later, Dame Elizabeth Taylor revealed to a friend that she had contacted Monroe, and offered to quit Cleopatra unless Monroe were rehired. Monroe deeply appreciated the offer, but declined because she didn't want to make matters worse for either of them.
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Originally, the movie was envisioned as a modest two million dollar project starring Dame Joan Collins.
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The nightmarish experience of filming this movie, combined with the movie's financial losses, virtually destroyed the careers and reputations of Writer and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Producer Walter Wanger.
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British author Lawrence Durrell adapted the script, but none of his material ended up on-screen.
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The blame for the incredible troubled production, accelerated production costs, and financial failure of this movie can be pointed at the following: (1) the studio's initial insistence that the film should be made on a B-movie budget; (2) the studio's initial decision for the movie to be shot at Pinewood Studios in England, which resulted in endless array of bad weather, deteriorating sets, and Dame Elizabeth Taylor's health problems which resulted in pneumonia; (3) Twentieth Century Fox President Spyros Skouras and Producer Walter Wanger's first decision on Rouben Mamoulian as director, which resulted in many creative differences between Mamoulian and Taylor, Peter Finch, and Stephen Boyd, as well as his inability to handle the production's problems; (4) Fox's endless rejections to give Joseph L. Mankiewicz more time to write and refine the script, as the studio was very anxious to get the movie made and finished immediately; (5) the low quantity of cash Fox could afford to pay for the ever-growing production expanses of this movie, due to the studio's financial problems; (6) Dame Elizabeth Taylor's prima donna behavior all throughout the production; (7) the Dame Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton affair and its surrounding media frenzy; (8) Spyros Skouras' selfish preferences and inexperienced micromanagement on the movie's production. Not even his showmanship made up for his considerable lack of filmmaking in speeding up production on this movie; and (9) Darryl F. Zanuck's ultimate decision to reject Mankiewicz's proposal to present this movie as two separate, three-hour movies (to preserve all of the useable footage) and to present the movie as a one whole, edited movie, in order to capitalize on the Taylor-Burton affair.
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During the shooting in Italy, Prince Borghese rented his private beach for one hundred fifty thousand dollars, but the place was still full of mines left over from the Allied landing in World War II.
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The filming of the slapping scene was damaged in transit back to the U.S. and had to be shot over again. This can of film apparently was stowed on the plane near something that fogged it.
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Stanley Baker was set to play Rufio, but demurred over taking the part because there was no script available. By the time he decided to take it, the part had gone to Martin Landau.
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During production, Twentieth Century Fox chairman Spyros Skouras sold one thousand of his estimated one hundred thousand shares in the studio on a whim. When rumors of his lack of faith in the studio began to spread, he bought them back to quash the rumors.
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Richard Burton presented two of the swords he used during filming to Frankie Howerd. The comedian thereafter kept them by his fireplace at home.
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One of Cleopatra's handmaidens was a sixteen-year-old Francesca Annis.
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The blistering review that Judith Crist gave this movie effectively kickstarted her movie critic career.
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Yul Brynner, Cary Grant, Curd Jürgens, Fredric March, Noël Coward, Sir John Gielgud, and Peter Sellers were considered for Julius Caesar.
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Filming finally finished at Cinecitta Studios on March 6, 1963, where production had begun a full two and a half years earlier. The aftermath of the Battle of Pharsalia, was then filmed in Almeria, Spain, with Sir Rex Harrison and Roddy McDowall when it was agreed that the story would be hobbled without that scene to open this movie. The world premiere was held on June 12th in New York City less than three months later.
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Nunnally Johnson was paid one hundred forty thousand dollars for a script polish. As Rouben Mamoulian, the original director, insisted only on his original screenwriter, there was nothing for Johnson to do, except to receive his paycheck and cash it in.
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Included amongst the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the four hundred movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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The original list of choices for the role of Mark Antony was: Stephen Boyd, Richard Johnson, Michael David, Peter O'Toole, Peter Finch and Laurence Harvey. Boyd was cast as Antony while Finch was cast as Caesar. Both men, however, had to leave the project due to the lengthy delays, many creative differences with the initial director, Rouben Mamoulian, and their obligations to other projects.
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After Cleopatra (1934), this was the second movie based on the life of Cleopatra VII to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
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After the departure of the original director, Rouben Mamoulian, Dame Elizabeth Taylor insisted that either George Stevens or Joseph L. Mankiewicz to be brought in as director. Stevens was unavailable, due to his commitment on The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Fox, then, pressured Mankiewicz in taking the job, which he eventually accepted after turning down the offer a couple of times before.
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In the restored scene where Queen Cleopatra VII (Dame Elizabeth Taylor) and Julius Caesar (Sir Rex Harrison) visit Alexander the Great's tomb, the backdrop is the famous image of Alexander's battle with Darius of Persia. It is best known as a large floor mosaic discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, and is said to be based on a third century B.C. Hellenistic painting. There is no evidence the image was ever located in Alexandria, though it did exist before the time in which this movie is set, and so is historically reasonable.
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When Joseph L. Mankiewicz was tapped to direct, he was working on adapting Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet novels for filming. One of his demands of the studio is that it purchase his production company, Figaro Productions, and all its assets. One of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet novels, Justine, was ultimately filmed by Twentieth Century Fox with George Cukor as director.
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After Julius Caesar (1953), this was the second movie directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz to feature Julius Caesar and Mark Antony as major characters.
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The first screenwriter drafted in on this movie was industry veteran Nigel Balchin.
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One of Richard Burton's costumes was later worn by Sidney James in Carry on Cleo (1964), which is a parody of this movie. Burton and James played Mark Antony.
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The saving grace to the fortunes and legacy of Twentieth Century Fox, after this movie, came from the phenomenal success of The Sound of Music (1965), an expensive and handsomely produced movie adaptation of the highly acclaimed Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical. It became one of the all-time greatest box-office hits and went on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture of the Year.
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The January, 1988 copy of "Films in Review" by James Beuselink contains a sixteen page article titled "Mankiewicz's Cleopatra".
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Out of desperation, Twentieth Century Fox orchestrated an unmounted Academy Awards campaign for this movie, in hopes that this movie's success at the Academy Awards would result in bigger and improved profits, which would help the ailing studio. While the movie ultimately received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, that did nothing to improve this movie's box-office receipts. It wouldn't turn a profit for another ten years, until after ABC paid five million dollars to Twentieth Century Fox for the rights to air the movie twice in 1966, as well as the earnings from its 1973 re-release.
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In the book about the making of this movie, Producer Walter Wanger says that Rouben Mamoulian - the first director, before the arrival of Joseph L. Mankiewicz - refused to discuss business during meal times.
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Dame Elizabeth Taylor was not insured during the shooting, because of her numerous health problems. Producer Walter Wanger said that they, the producers, had to be careful with her, since she was in the vast majority of the movie, and any health issues on her part would wreak havoc with the schedule.
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When production relocated to Rome, the costumes and sets had to be completely re-designed and re-built, leading to a shortage of lumber and other building materials throughout Italy.
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Athough she never asked it, Dame Elizabeth Taylor had an entire building converted to her own use. It included an office for her husband, a salon, a special room for her wigs, a dressing room, a make-up room with bath tub, and shower.
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Sir Michael Hordern (Cicero) said on a chat show he was under contract for eighteen months.
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While the studio executives decided to stop the shooting because of the gigantic expenses, the whole crew, from actors and actresses to technicians and even extras, made large personal concessions in time and salary to finish the movie properly.
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Widely misremembered as being a box-office bomb in its initial release, this movie was actually 1963's biggest money-maker, returning more than twenty-two million dollars to Twentieth Century Fox. The problem was that, when all the dust settled, it had cost nearly twice what it grossed (reportedly over forty-three million dollars). It has variously been claimed that the movie broke even (made back what it cost) between its worldwide box-office take, in 1966, when Fox sold ABC the broadcast rights for five million dollars, and in 1973, on one of its theatrical re-releases, it finally turned a profit.
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Costs rose from two million dollars to thirty-five million dollars and caused the resignation of Twentieth Century Fox President Spyros Skouras. Fox still had enough capital to threaten legal action against British movie Producer Peter Rogers when they discovered his plans to use an exact replica of their movie poster for Carry on Cleo (1964), with the heads of Amanda Barrie, Kenneth Williams, and Sidney James replacing those of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Sir Rex Harrison.
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Jack Hildyard was initially the cinematographer, but left at the same time as original director Rouben Mamoulian. When Joseph L. Mankiewicz came on-board, he initially looked at hiring an Italian cinematographer, but the studio did not believe that there were any Italians sufficiently qualified to work on this movie and pressured him to hire an American or British cinematographer. Freddie Young, Milton R. Krasner, and Robert Surtees were all unsuccessfully approached for the position, before Leon Shamroy finally agreed to sign on.
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By June 6 of the Italian shoot, spending was nearly seventy thousand dollars per day and the movie was already three million dollars more expensive than Ben-Hur (1959)
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year not to be nominated in any of the writing categories.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Special Effects.
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Leon Shamroy was unavailable for many of the re-shoots, so Claude Renoir filled in.
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At the time this was released, major movie studios were still in the habit of "encouraging" their thousands of employees to block vote for each company's biggest-budgeted movies for Best Picture (the only category voted on by all Academy members in all branches). This may explain why this elephantine budgeted movie is amongst the few ever to be nominated for the top Oscar, but fail to be recognized for either its writing or directing.
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Ancient Egyptian obelisks in New York City's Central Park and London are each known as Cleopatra's Needle.
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Uncredited theatrical movie debut of John Alderton (1st Officer).
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Actors and actresses arrived from all over the world every day, and most of them were not met at the plane because of major transportation problems. According to the Producer Walter Wanger, the housing department neglected to get the right accommodations, which made for even more chaos.
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The British "Carry On" series of comedy movies were usually shot at Pinewood Studios, the same studio this movie planned to use. Carry on Cleo (1964) used the Twentieth Century Fox sets and costumes left at Pinewood.
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Robert Stephens and Michael Hordern appeared together again years later in the BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, as Aragorn and Gandalf.. Roddy McDowall played Samwise Gamgee in the television adaptation of The Return of the King (1980). Bill Nighy played this role in the radio version.
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According to Guinness, this movie was the top money maker of 1963 in the US and Canada.
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