Sunday, June 23, 2013

Coming to America (1988)

Prince Akeem: I want a woman that will arouse my intellect as well as my loins!

Happy 21st birthday to the Prince of Zamunda, Prince Akeem!  To celebrate, the entire kingdom has arrived at the palace to see him marry a woman he's never seen before.  However, Prince Akeem has second thoughts and decides that he should be able to marry a woman of his own choosing.  But where should he look?  Why, Queens in New York City, of course!  With his best friend, Semmi, accompanying him, the quest begins!

It was 25 years ago that "Coming to America" made its premiere (June 29, 1988).  Directed by John Landis, the film went on to earn over $128 million in the U.S., a huge success for that year.

Both Eddie Murphy and his friend Arsenio Hall played multiple characters.  Eddie Murphy: Prince Akeem, Clarence, Randy Watson, and Saul.  Arsenio Hall: Semmi, Extremely Ugly Girl, Morris, and Reverend Brown.  Co-stars include Shari Headley (Lisa McDowell), John Amos (Cleo McDowell), James Earl Jones (King Jaffe Joffer), Madge Sinclair (Queen Aoleon), and Eriq La Salle (Darryl Jenks).  Cameos also include those of comedian Louie Anderson (Maurice), actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. (boy getting haircut), and actor Samuel L. Jackson (hold-up man).  One would think that "Coming to America" was the first film for both Louie Anderson and Samuel L. Jackson, but it wasn't.  It was, however, the first feature film for Cuba Gooding, Jr.  His character actually had lines, but those scenes fell to the floor in the editing room.

With its extravagant costumes and phenomenal make-up achievements, "Coming to America" was hailed as being quite a success, earning Oscar nominations in both categories.  Here are some other bits of information on this fun comedic adventure...

1.  David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein wrote the screenplay for the film, based on a story believed to have been created by Eddie Murphy.  But Eddie Murphy didn't come up with the idea all by himself.   Eddie Murphy was ordered by a court to give 19% of his earnings to co-writer Art Buchwald because Murphy did not give Buchwald credit for developing the story with him. 

2.  The working title of this film was "The Quest".

3.  This film marks the first time Eddie Murphy played multiple characters the same film. Something which has gone on to be a trademark of his.

4.  Vanessa Williams was originally considered for the role of Lisa McDowell.

5.  Sidney Poitier was originally considered for the role of King Jaffe Joffer.

6.  The name of the fictional African country the main characters are from is called "Zamunda". This name was taken from a Richard Pryor routine where he referred to a fictional African tribe of the same name. 

7.  When Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) goes to sit with the King and Queen at the breakfast table, the King is surprised to find out that Akeem had grown a mustache. In the film "Beverly Hills Cop,"  Axel (also played by Murphy) visits Jenny Summers at the art gallery where she works.  She is just as surprised to find out that he grew a mustache. 

8.  Most of the dance that's performed by the royal dancers before presenting Prince Akeem's queen-to-be is a high-tempo rendition of the dance from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (also directed by John Landis).

9.  Akeem's apartment building is supposed to be in Queens, but it's actually located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at S. 5th Street and Hooper.

10.  According to John Landis, it was his idea to have Eddie Murphy wear makeup to play a Jewish man as a sort of payback for Jewish comedians wearing blackface in the early 1900's.

11.  The barbers call Akeem "Kunta Kinte", a reference to the popular TV mini-series, "Roots."  John Amos, who plays Cleo McDowell (Lisa's father), played the adult Kunta Kinte in "Roots."  Madge Sinclair (Queen Aoleon), played Kunta Kinte's wife and James Earl Jones (King Jaffe Joffer) played Alex Haley Jr. in "Roots: The Next Generations."

12.  The "McDowell's" restaurant was actually a Wendy's on Queens Blvd. that was scheduled to be closed for a complete renovation. Although the production had approval from McDonald's corporate headquarters, they apparently didn't pass the word down to their local outlets. On the day the "McDowell's" sign was erected, the manager of the McDonald's 1/2 mile further up the road arrived with his lawyer and proceeded to take photographs while telling the set dressing crew they were going to be sued for everything they were worth.  This actual occurrence became part of the story of the film.

13.  A scene featured in this movie's theatrical trailer but was cut from the final film shows Cleo McDowell, Akeem, and Semmi walking into Cleo's office where he asks them if either of them have had any fast food work experience, to which Semmi quizzically responds "Certainly not!". Akeem then proceeds to lightly nudge Semmi and then responds to Cleo telling him that this is their first job in the United States. 

14.  The bums that receive the money from Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) drops are the "Duke Brothers" (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) from "Trading Places" (also directed by John Landis). In that movie, Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) was responsible for The Dukes losing their fortune.

15.  When King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) visits New York to bring Akeem back home, he wears a lion skin sash. Years later Jones would portray the voice of the lion king Mufasa in Disney's "The Lion King."  Madge Sinclair (Queen Aoleon) would also star alongside Jones in "The Lion King" as Mufasa's wife, the lioness queen Serabi.

16.  When King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) meets Lisa's father in the restaurant, he warns him to keep his presence secret from Akeem. As King Joffer leaves the restaurant, he says, "Do not alert him to my presence. I'll deal with him myself," similar to lines Jones delivered as Darth Vader in "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" and "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi."

17.  The McDowell's home address is 2432 Derby Avenue, Jamaica Estates. Cleo gives the King his home address on the phone when he calls the King to let him know Akeem is at the house. 

18.  In the credits, the fictitious Zamundun Film Commission is thanked. 

19.  Director John Landis and Eddie Murphy did not get along and Murphy vowed to never work with Landis again. However, the two later reconciled and Eddie personally asked John to direct Beverly Hills Cop 3.

20.  A television pilot of a weekly sitcom version of the film was produced for CBS following this film's successful release. The series starred Tommy Davidson as Prince Tariq, and Paul Bates reprised his role as Oha. The pilot went unsold, but was televised on July 4, 1989 as an episode of CBS Summer Playhouse.

21.  Shari Headley (Lisa McDowell) was actually born in Queens, New York City.  "Coming to America" was her first feature film.  She continued her career in modeling and acting, performing in various films and television shows such as "Quantum Leap," "Cosby," "Guiding Light," "The Bold and the Beautiful," "All My Children," and "10 Things I Hate About You."

22.  Eriq La Salle (Darryl Jenks) furthered his career, acting in films and television programs which included, "L.A. Law," "Quantum Leap," "The System," "ER," "A Gifted Man," and "Blackout."

And now you know.

Rated R and running just under two hours, the production companies that brought us "Coming to America" weren't just Paramount Pictures, but Eddie Murphy Productions as well.

Enjoy these pictures stills from the film...

Lisa McDowell: Would you really have given up all of this just for me?
Prince Akeem: Of course. If you like, we can give it all up now.
Lisa McDowell: [surveys her new kingdom] Nah!

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