Once again an unheralded sleeper swept the board and earned four Golden globes. Arthur was developed at Paramount Studios but they got cold feet just as it was going into production; Orion stepped in and the rest is history. It cost only $7 million and grossed close to $100 million. Its success was tempered shortly afterward when its 44-year-old writer-director Steve Gordon died of a heart attack. It was his first and last film.
Arthur was an immediate hit, but its path to the screen was anything but smooth. When Paramount had it, it was offered to Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Richard Dreyfuss and James Caan, and none of them cared for the character. Ironically it was the casting of unknown Dudley Moore that made the film the surprise hit that it became. Prior to that Moore had been a part of the British comedy team Beyond the Fringe and had done a memorable cameo in Foul Play, which prompted Blake Edwards to cast him in 10, which was also a hit, but that was all Bo Derek’s doing.
Arthur, however, was Dudley’s baby, and despite a gimpy leg, he remained a box-office star for a full decade after that. Another Englishman who contributed to its success was the great Shakespearian actor, Sir John Gielgud, who, despite his lofty reputation, had a delicious sense of humor both on and off screen, and after winning both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for this role worked consistently on film.
Another winning component was the song. “Arthur’s Theme, The Best You Can Be.” It probably set a record for most composers of one song, ever. The song became the number one hit of the year and went on to win both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award as Best Original Song. Taking credit for it were Peter Allen, Burt Bacharach, pop star Christopher Cross (who supposedly wrote only the most famous line) and Carole Bayer Sager. That memorable line was, “When you get caught between the moon and New York City the best thing you can do is fall in love.”
Liza Minelli, who played Arthur’s love interest, was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy but she didn’t win. The winner was Bernadette Peters for Pennies from Heaven. Other nominees were Blair Brown for Continental Divide, Carol Burnett for The Four Seasons, and Jill Clayburgh for First Monday in October.
Besides Dudley Moore, the nominees for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy were Alan Alda for The Four Seasons, George Hamilton for Zorro, the Gay Blade, Steve Martin for Pennies From Heaven, and Water Matthau for First Monday in October.