Stir Crazy is one of those films that everyone has seen. It gets on TV nearly as often as Animal House or the original version of The Blues Brothers. Stir Crazy had Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in the major roles. The plot line was a bit thin, but very funny. IMDB has this to say:

Writer Skip Donahue (Gene Wilder) and actor Harry Monroe (Richard Pryor) are fired from their jobs in New York, and leave for Hollywood to find a new way to make a living. Along the way, they take odd jobs to make ends meet. In one such job, Skip and Harry dress up as two woodpeckers, performing a song and dance routine as part of a promotion for a bank.

Of course the hapless pair find themselves in hot water, during a break their costumes are stolen and ‘borrowed’ by bank robbers. There was little chance of Stir Crazy being nominated for an Oscar, but it is still funny today.

As is often the case, the ‘back story’ is as much fun as the final product that we see in the Movie Theater. My friend Jack Young was involved, I’ll let him explain:

In 1979 I was hired to furnish and handle all the background extra’s for this great movie. There were scenes to be shot in the State Prison at Florence, AZ. Before shooting began, I spent two weeks in Florence, working with the Warden to get several hundred possible extras for those scenes. We sifted through the ones that had minor convictions, other than Murder, etc.

However, Richard Pryor (the co-star with Gene Wilder) was not well liked at the prison. I guess he had done something or said something about the inmates. When time came to shoot those scenes, Pryor refused to show up for fear of his life. We had to put their real guards, with real guns and bullets in the scene before he would come to work. All the time we were shooting, be was constantly looking over his shoulder and was scared to death. Not a nice guy. Also, I rented the same house to him that I had gotten for James Arness; however, he destroyed the place and it cost the company a lot of money to put it back in good condition.

Most actors are paranoid about a gun being real. Pryor on the other hand was paranoid that the gun was not!

In Stir Crazy there is the famous Rodeo scene, to make it work they needed a lot of extra’s. but the budget would not allow it:

During the making of the film, they came to me and said they needed 3,000 extras in the Rodeo scene but could only pay for 300. How could I handle this? I worked on the solution for a couple days and then asked them for a budget of $40,000. Since it would coast $225,000 to pay for all 3,000, they approved this budget and I went to work. I printed thousands of pamphlets saying if you came to the Rodeo Grounds on a given day they would receive a hotdog and drink for lunch….a VCR Unit would be given away at 10:30…a New TV given away at lunch and a new Ford given away at wrap. I ended up with 7,000 people to start and still had over 3,000 for the car give-a-way. I made a deal with the various people that provided the prizes to give them all the PR they wanted at each give-a-way. Jim Click was the person I got the car from. A very successful operation.

I will never be able to watch Stir Crazy again without analyzing Richard Pryor in the Florence prison scenes.

Simon Barrett


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