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Cleopatra
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Trivia for
Cléopâtre (1963) More at IMDbPro »Cleopatra (original title)

A clerical error by 20 Century-Fox probably cost Roddy McDowall a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance in this film. See McDowall's biography page for details.
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Adjusting for inflation, this is one of the most expensive movies ever made. Its budget of $44 million is equivalent to 297 million 2007 dollars.
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Soon after shooting began in England, Elizabeth Taylor became ill and could not work. As her presence was required for almost every scene production soon closed down. Director Rouben Mamoulian finally resigned on January 3, 1961. He was followed by stars 'Peter Finch' and Stephen Boyd, who had to honor prior commitments.
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Taylor's illness prevented her from working again in England's weather for several months. Therefore the production moved to Rome. The sets and the footage already shot were scrapped. (See also Arrête ton char Cléo (1964)).
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Various employees of Rome's Cinecitta studios where this was filmed stole several millions of dollars worth of equipment and props while production took place.
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A group of female extras who played Cleopatra's various servants and slave girls went on strike to demand protection from amorous Italian extras and their bottom-pinching fingers. The studio eventually hired a special guard to protect the extras.
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Rex Harrison had a clause in his contract stipulating that whenever a picture of Richard Burton appeared in an ad, so would his. A large sign was put up on Broadway showing only Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. After Harrison's lawyers complained, the studio fulfilled the contract by placing a picture of Harrison on one corner of the billboard.
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Filming began in 1960.
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John DeCuir rebuilt the massive set of Alexandria three times.
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz hoped that the film would be released as two separate pictures, "Caesar and Cleopatra" followed by "Antony and Cleopatra." Each was to run approximately three hours. 20th Century-Fox decided against this, and released the film we know today. It runs just over four 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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Widely regarded as one of the biggest flops of all time, reality is quite different: the film made its money back despite the horrendous costs, but not all at once - it took several years. It was one of the highest grossing films of the 1960s. According to the late director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, many of the best scenes were cut and there are between 90 and 120 minutes of character development and story missing.
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At $194,800, the budget for Elizabeth Taylor's costumes in this film was the highest ever for a single screen actor. Her 65 costumes included a dress made from 24-carat gold cloth.
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Susan Hayward was the first choice to play Cleopatra.
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Among Elizabeth Taylor's demands were the requirement that the film be shot in the large format Todd-AO system. She owned the rights to the system as the widow of Michael Todd. This meant even more money being paid to Ms. Taylor.
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Elizabeth Taylor's contract stipulated that her million-dollar salary be paid out as follows: $125,000 for 16 weeks work plus $50,000 a week afterwards plus 10% of the gross (with no break-even point). When the film was restarted in Rome in 1961, she had earned well over $2 million. After a lengthy $50 million lawsuit brought against Taylor and Richard Burton by 20th Century Fox in 1963 and a countersuit filed by Taylor, the studio finally settled with the actress in 1966. Her ultimate take for the film was $7 million.
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In 1966, ABC-TV paid 20th Century-Fox a record $5 million for two showings of the film, a deal that finally put the picture into the black.
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When the film finally broke even in 1973 (due to a $5 million sale to TV), 20th Century-Fox "closed the books" on "Cleopatra", therefore keeping secret all future profits from the film to avoid paying those who might have been promised a percentage of the net profits.
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Martin Landau was booked to play Euphranor, but when they could not find anyone to play Ruffo, Landau was recast
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Marlon Brando was sought for the role of Marc Antony but was attached to Les révoltés du Bounty (1962).
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This film has been cited as one of the factors that brought an end to the Italian-made "sword and sandal"/"mythological muscleman" 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 films dropped and audiences declined.
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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 film that had been a smash hit for the studio. What the studio needed was a producer willing to handle the project. At about the same time, veteran producer Walter Wanger approached Fox with an idea for a project he had been planning for several years: the story of Cleopatra. In the words of David Brown, "We fell on him."
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Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was fired during the editing/post-production phase. Since there was no actual shooting script (Mankiewicz was writing as he was shooting), Twentieth Century-Fox soon realized that only Mankiewicz knew how the story fit together. He was brought back to complete the project.
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Martin Landau learned Italian during the shoot.
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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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Michael Hordern said on a chat show he was under contract for 18 months
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During the making of the movie, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton started their love-hate relationship which lasted until his death.
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Alex North was chosen to score the film after Joseph L. Mankiewicz's son Chris told him that North had done a magnificent job in composing a score for Spartacus (1960).
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While at Cinecitta studios filming the scene of Cleopatra's triumphant and spectacular entry into Rome, a scene requiring thousands of extras and the transportation of a huge barge carrying the Queen of Egypt, Joseph L. Mankiewicz had to cut the scene, roll back the barge, and begin again because one of the production's Panavision cameras had caught an enterprising film extra, in the heat of the Roman summer, hawking gelato to his fellow extras.
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The scar from Elizabeth Taylor's tracheotomy, performed during filming, is visible in several shots.
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During Cleopatra's entry into Rome, the shots of Cleopatra's barge and the parade that precedes it were filmed several months apart, so that the light would be hitting Cleopatra directly.
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The filming of Cleopatra's entrance into Rome was delayed for months due to lighting problems resulting in the recasting of the American child actor who was playing her four-year-old son with an Italian child (complete with accent) as the original boy had grown taller during the long delay.
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When Fox employees were searching for a successful Fox property that could be remade, they decided upon Cleopatra (1917), a silent epic starring Theda Bara. However, they could only made their judgment from an archived copy of the original script and some stills from the production. There were no prints surviving of the movie itself.
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Elizabeth Taylor's contract gave her director approval. When Rouben Mamoulian resigned from the production, Taylor would only approve two men as possible replacements: George Stevens and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Stevens was already at work on La plus grande histoire jamais contée (1965).
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When producer Walter Wanger was removed from the production, it marked the end of his career in the motion picture industry.
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Mitchell, not Panavision, cameras were used on "Cleopatra".
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Elizabeth Taylor had 65 costume changes for this film, a record for a motion picture. The figure is exceeded by Joan Collins, who had 85 costume changes in the TV miniseries "Sins" (1986).
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In 1958 Joan Collins was cast in the title role, but after several delays she became unavailable. Collins had previously starred in a similar role in La terre des pharaons (1955). After Collins' departure, Audrey Hepburn was considered as a replacement by producer Walter Wanger. Wanger then offered the role to Elizabeth Taylor. He called her on the set of her latest film, Soudain l'été dernier (1959) and related the offer through Taylor's then husband Eddie Fisher who had answered the phone. As a joke, Taylor replied "Sure, tell him I'll do it for a million dollars." This then unheard-of sum was accepted and in October 1959 Taylor became the first Hollywood star to receive $1 million for a single picture.
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The original list of choices for the role of Marc Antony were 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. However, both men had to leave the project due to the lengthy delays and their obligations to other projects. Boyd was replaced by Richard Burton and Finch was replaced by Rex Harrison.
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Originally Cleopatra was envisioned as a modest $2,000,000 project starring Joan Collins. However, once Elizabeth Taylor was cast, the film was transformed into a giant epic.
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Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz referred to this as "the toughest three pictures I ever made".
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A total of 10 people won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Color) for the film (7 art directors, 3 set decorators); this is the highest number of persons sharing a single award in an annual category. (In 1988 and again in 2006, a Scientific and Technical Award, which is not necessarily given each year, was shared by 12 individuals.)
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First cinema film of John Alderton.
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The first of eleven films that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in together.
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John Hoyt, who plays Cassius, the chief conspirator against Julius Caesar, played the role of Decius Brutus, another of the conspirators, in both Orson Welles's 1937 Fascist-themed stage production of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar', and in MGM's more traditional 1953 film version of the play.
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Elizabeth Taylor became the first actress to earn a million dollars when she agreed to star in this film. Her overall take of seven million is equivalent to about 29 million in 2009 dollars.
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The film's elaborate and complicated sets and props all had to be constructed twice, as the production moved from London to Rome following Elizabeth Taylor's illness.
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When Joseph L. Mankiewicz came on board as director after the departure of Rouben Mamoulian, he inherited a film that was already $5 million over budget and with no usable footage to show for it.
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In order to break even, Cléopâtre (1963) had to become one of the top grossing films of all time. Its initial box office take in North America was $48 million, the highest grossing film of its year. 20th Century Fox's share of the receipts amounted to only $26 million, however, only half of the total production costs. The film eventually recouped its budget through worldwide box office takings and television sales, but the studio had to undertake drastic cost-cutting measures to survive. It was only due to the success of Le jour le plus long (1962) and the following year's La mélodie du bonheur (1965) that the studio managed to stay afloat.
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In order not to go under, part of the 20th Century Fox backlot was sold off to developers. This area now forms the core of the Century City area in Los Angeles.
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The finished script was as thick as the Beverly Hills phonebook.
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The production was so huge and demanded so much lumber and raw material that building materials became scarce throughout the rest of Italy.
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79 sets were constructed for the film.
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26,000 costumes were created for the film.
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Elizabeth Taylor reputedly threw up the first time she saw the finished product.
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After a day's lengthy shooting, Joseph L. Mankiewicz would retire to his private rooms to carry on rewriting the screenplay. He had initially begged for time off to do a proper rewrite but 20th Century Fox was already so deeply in debt that they couldn't allow for yet another delay in production. Operating under these stressful conditions, Mankiewicz had to resort to daily injections to keep him going during the day and different ones at night to help him sleep.
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz told Martin Landau that he had enough cut footage to make another movie called "The Further Adventures of Octavian and Ruffio".
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One of Cleopatra's handmaidens is a 16 year old Francesca Annis.
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Cleopatra's barge alone cost about $2 million in today's dollars.
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Darryl F. Zanuck, in principle, did not object to Joseph L. Mankiewicz's idea to have 2 3-hour movies. However, he knew the public was obsessed with the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton affair and would not show up to see the first part in which Burton did not appear. Thus, the two parts were edited into one single movie.
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For many of the reshoots, original cinematographer Leon Shamroy was unavailable so Claude Renoir filled in for him.
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When the film was truncated from a 6 hour movie to a 4 hour one, 49 pages of reshoots were required to make sense of the changes.
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Numerous boats and ships were employed for the scene showing Cleopatra's navy. It was said at the time that 20th Century Fox had the world's third biggest navy.
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When Joseph L. Mankiewicz was tapped to direct, he was working on adapting Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria quartet novels.
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz originally wanted to have either Laurence Olivier or Trevor Howard as Julius Caesar. Olivier had full theatrical commitments due to running the RSC, whilst Howard was caught up in the protracted filming of Les révoltés du Bounty (1962).
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20th Century Fox's virtual bankruptcy meant that the film lacks a big final battle sequence. The studio simply couldn't afford to do one.
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The Roman forum built at Cinecitta was three times the size of the real thing.
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When they built the Alexandria set at Anzio, a couple of construction workers were killed by an unexploded mine left over from World War II.
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Initially Egypt refused entry to Elizabeth Taylor because she was Jewish. They revised their opinion after reflecting on the millions of US dollars that the film's presence would engender.
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Martin Landau was cast after Joseph L. Mankiewicz admired his performance in La mort aux trousses (1959). Mankiewicz called up Alfred Hitchcock to ask him if he could act.
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Stanley Baker was set to play Ruffio but demurred over taking the part as there was no script available. By the time, he decided to take it, the part had since gone to Martin Landau.
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The dragged-out production cost Martin Landau a part in Federico Fellini's Huit et demi (1963).
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One of the problems frequently encountered was that Italian films at the time were all post-dubbed. Consequently while Joseph L. Mankiewicz was attempting to film his scenes, there was invariably constant hammering going on by the carpenters on the set. The production lost hours and hours, trying to make it clear to the Italian crew that silence was essential on set at all times.
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz was never proud of this film and only made it out of sufferance for his friend, Elizabeth Taylor. At one point he even tried to have his name taken off. He was however paid $3 million for making it, a then unheard of sum of money for a director.
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The blasting review that Judith Crist gave the film effectively kickstarted her film critic career.
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The first screenwriter drafted in on the film was industry veteran Nigel Balchin.
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Nunnally Johnson was paid $140,000 for a script polish.
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Hume Cronyn was originally signed to be on the film for 10 weeks. He stayed with the production for 10 and a half months.
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At the height of its excesses, Cléopâtre (1963) was costing 20th Century Fox $70,000 a day.
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Elizabeth Taylor had met Richard Burton several years prior to their working together on the film; she had found him to be brutish and boorish. However, when Burton showed up for work on Cléopâtre (1963) 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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Cleopatra's spectacular entrance into Rome was nearly scuppered when all the enthusiastic extras started shouting "Liz! Liz!" instead of "Cleopatra! Cleopatra!".
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When the Marilyn Monroe vehicle "Something's Got to Give" was shelved due to budget overruns and the unreliability of its star, Cléopâtre (1963) became the only film in production at 20th Century Fox. Obviously a lot was riding on it.
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One of the beleaguered director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's most passionate allies was Rex Harrison who, at one point, offered up his own salary to see if it would help the production. Mankiewicz refused to let him do that.
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After conceding to Darryl F. Zanuck's insistence that Cléopâtre (1963) be one film not two, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's first cut ran to 5 hours and 20 minutes. Zanuck's first reaction to the film was that Mark Antony was ineffectual, many of the scenes were simply too long and the battle scenes were amateurish in execution.
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Fox's marketing campaign was suitably successful that on the day that Cléopâtre (1963) finally opened, the film was sold out for the next four months.
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After firing Rouben Mamoulian as director, Walter Wanger and Darryl F. Zanuck approached Alfred Hitchcock to take over the project. Hitchcock refused and chose to make Les oiseaux (1963) instead.
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When Walter Wanger's first choice for director insisted that Caeser was a homosexual, 'Spyrous 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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In order to keep star Elizabeth Taylor happy, 'Spyrous Skouras' had chili from Chasen's air-freighted to Europe for her.
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When studio execs suggested that Joan Collins, Dana Wynter, Sophia Loren, or Susan Hayward should be substituted for a problematic Elizabeth Taylor, 'Spyrous Skouras' allegedly screamed, " Cleopatra must have a chest. A chest will mean $1,000,000 or $2,000,000 extra dollars for us."
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During production 'Spyrous Skouras' sold a thousand of his estimated 100,000 shares in the studio on a whim. When rumors of his lack of faith in the studio began to spread, the chairman had to buy them back in order to squelch the stories.
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