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Movies: “What a Way to Go!”

May 11, 1964 - Opening today is “What a Way to Go!,” a comedy film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Paul Newman, Shirley MacLaine, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Gene Kelly, Bob Cummings, and Dick Van Dyke.

In the film, a wealthy widow (MacLaine) wants to donate most of her fortune to the Internal Revenue Service. She narrates her life story to her psychiatrist (Cummings). Each of her past husbands found wealth and success but met with tragic deaths. She thinks she is cursed, and she would instead prefer a "simple life" inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau.

“There is, I hope, pathos in the film,” MacLaine said recently. “Anyway, that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s funny for a girl to go through five husbands, getting wealthier with the death of each one – but it’s sad too because she didn’t want them to die, and she hates money.”

Robert Mitchum’s role was originally meant for Frank Sinatra, but Sinatra wanted several times more money than what the other male leads received, and the studio refused his demands. Mitchum agreed to it because he had liked working with Thompson on “Cape Fear.”

Except for one scene at Los Angeles Airport, the entire film was shot on the Fox backlot on 73 sets. Because of the limited availability of the stars, the movie was shot over 45 days, which was considered short for a movie of this scale.

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