“Somebody open up a window!” Yes, today is Independence Day, which means that it’s time to watch the wonderfully cheesy 1972 musical 1776. Most of the movie is completely historically inaccurate, but its wonderful cast and catchy songs have made it a favorite among audiences. It’s certainly not among the great Broadway or movie musicals, but how can you say no to a movie featuring Ben Franklin making sexual innuendos and frequent jokes about New Jersey?
The book for 1776 was written by Peter Stone (Father Goose, Charade), with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards. The film was directed by Peter H. Hunt.
As it does every year, Turner Classic Movies is airing 1776 on July 4. This year, the film airs at 10:15 p.m. ET, following the 8 p.m. ET screening of Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Here’s a look at 1776.
1. Yes, That’s Really Mr. Feeny Actor William Daniels as John Adams
Long before he was best known for playing the principal Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World, the 90-year-old William Daniels was a star of the stage. He made his Broadway debut in the 1943 production of Life With Father. He didn’t appear in a film until 20 years later, when he was in 1963’s Ladybug Ladybug. Other 1960s film credits include A Thousand Clowns and The Graduate.
On television, Daniels also famously voiced KITT on Knight Rider. He also won two Emmys for playing Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere. For many though, he’ll always be Mr. Feeny, a role he played from 1993 to 2000 on Boy Meets World. He reprised the role in the 2014-2017 spin-off Girl Meets World.
In 1969, Daniels starred as John Adams in the first production of 1776 and he reprised the role in the film. The late Ken Howard, who would go on to become the SAG union president, played Thomas Jefferson in the film and on the stage. The late Howard Da Silva played Benjamin Franklin on the stage and screen.
Daniels was to be nominated for the Best Featured Actor Tony, but felt he should have been nominated for the Best Actor Tony. Since his name wasn’t billed above the title though, he wasn’t nominated.
2. Movie Critics Didn’t Like the Film, but Theater Critics Loved the Musical
The film version of 1776 has never quite earned the same love as the stage version. Roger Ebert gave the movie two stars in his review, writing that he could “hardly bear to remember the songs, much less discuss them.” He called it an “insult” to the real Founding Fathers.
The New York Times’ Vincent Canby wrote that the film is “far from being a landmark of musical cinema, but it is the first film in my memory that comes close to treating seriously a magnificent chapter in the American history.”
During the 1972 awards season, the film was almost ignored completely. Harry Stadling Jr. earned the film’s only Oscar nomination, for his cinematography. It earned a single Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical/Comedy. It did land on the National Board of Review’s Top 10 list though.
The musical earned a much better reception though. It won Best Musical; Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Ron Holgate; and Best Direction of a Musical for Peter H. Hunt. Stone also won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical. 1776 has only been revived once, in 1997. That production was nominated for Best Revival of a Musical.
3. ‘Hamilton’ Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda Thinks It’s 1 of the Best Musical Theater Books Ever Written
In light of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, 1776 might seem quaint to today’s audiences. But as Miranda told Daniels during a March 2016 discussion for the New York City Center, the musical had a major impact on Hamilton.
Miranda told Daniels of the show:
1776 created such an iconic, indelible image of Adams that we just know who that is now. It’s also, I think, one of the best books—if not the best—ever written for musical theater, in that you long to see them talk to each other. Which almost never happens in a musical. Most musicals, you’re waiting for the next song to start. That book is so smart, and so engaging.
Miranda told Daniels that he felt 1776 “paved the way” for Hamilton. Like his own show, 1776 tries to portray the Founding Fathers as real people.
“I think it makes them accessible to us in a very real way,” Miranda explained. “To begin an opening number with everyone telling another guy to shut up—what better way to pull these people that we see on statues and on our currency off of the pedestal? It’s an extraordinary opening number.”
4. Richard Nixon Personally Convinced Producer Jack L. Warner to Cut ‘Cool, Cool Conservative Men’ From the Movie
1776 has another thing in common with Hamilton. They both became political lightning rods in their own time. On the stage, the production included the song “Cool, Cool Conservative Men,” with President Richard M. Nixon did not like at all. Since producer Jack L. Warner (in his first production outside Warner Bros.) was a friend of Nixon’s, the president had input on the final version of the film seen in theaters.
As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2001, Warner agreed to cut the song out of the film and even had to re-edit already released trailers that included the song. Warner hoped that the scene would be completely destroyed, but the editor kept it in storage. The 2001 restoration of the film includes the song and it’s been part of the film ever since.
“I felt somewhat raped [by Warner’s edits],” Stone told the LA Times in 2001. “It was an invasion, but he had the power to do it, because he had the copyright. And the studio heads, they still have that power.”
In 1970, 1776 became the first full-scale Broadway show performed at the White House. But Nixon didn’t want “Cool, Cool Conservative Men” or parts of “Mama Look Sharp” performed. Daniels told Miranda that their producer refused to let the show be performed with out the song.
“Let’s just say the cast performed with additional verve. I was sitting right next to Nixon, and even I was getting nervous,” Hunt told the LA Times in 2001.
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5. The Declaration of Independence Really Wasn’t Signed by All Members of Congress on July 4
The film has a long list of historical inaccuracies. Martha Jefferson didn’t really rush to Philadelphia to be with Thomas Jefferson when he was writing the Declaration of Independence and there were far more members of the Second Continental Congress than depicted in the film. Even John Adams’ very personality is different from what he was like in reality at that point of his life.
On of the biggest inaccuracies of the film though is its depiction of the Declaration of Independence being signed on July 4. As History.com notes, it was on July 1 that 12 of the 13 colonies’ representatives approved Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence. On July 4, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, which is why July 4 is considered Independence Day.
But it wasn’t for another month that the document was signed. Many signed on August 2, after New York’s delegates finally voted for Lee’s motion on July 9. Other delegates signed at a later date.
Of course, when you’re writing a 168-minute movie or a two-act musical, time has to be condensed.
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