Frankie and Johnny
“FRANKIE & JOHNNY”
Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer star in “Frankie & Johnny,” the funny and tender story of a short order cook and a waitress who meet at a New York City diner and begin an unlikely courtship. The comedy was produced and directed by Garry Marshall, the director of “Pretty Woman.”
When Johnny, the new cook at a neighborhood cafe, decides to win over the waitress Frankie, he soon finds getting her to make a commitment to him is a tall order. Frankie doesn’t believe that falling in love is any guarantee of happiness ever after, but Johnny has chosen this woman and this moment to take a stand against loneliness.
The screenplay was adapted by Terrence McNally from his play “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” Alexandra Rose and Charles Mulvehill are the executive producers and Nick Abdo is the co-producer of the film for the Motion Picture Group of Paramount Pictures, a Paramount Communications company.
Six-time academy Award-nominee Al Pacino and two-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer play Johnny and Frankie, co-workers at Nick’s Apollo Cafe.
Hector Eliiondo, who won a Movie Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe and American Comedy awards for his role in “Pretty Woman,” plays Nick, the restaurant owner. Four-time Tony-nominee Kate Nelligan is the saucy waitress Cora.
Nathan Lane, who won a Best Actor Drama Desk award for his role in McNally’s “The Lisbon Traviata,” plays Frankie’s neighbor and confidant, Tim. Comedienne Jane Morris is the cranky waitress Nedda.
The other family members, friends and co-workers of Frankie and Johnny, as well as restaurant regulars, are played by an ensemble cast of talented supporting actors, including Tim Hopper, Dey Young, Gordon Belson, K Callan, Al Fann, Ele Keats,
Phil Leeds, Fernando Lopez, Greg Lewis, Golde McLaughlin, Sean O’Bryan, DeDee Pfeiffer, Glenn Plummer, and Shannon Wilcox.
Director-producer Garry Marshall describes “Frankie & Johnny” as “not a fairy tale but realistic love story about regular people with universal problems about love, loneliness, sex, self-esteem, the whole human dilemma. – The film is dedicated
to all those women who think Prince Charming got hit by a truck and isn’t coming; and to the guys who are sure Cinderella is locked away somewhere and won’t be showing up before or after midnight.
“Most people today in our complex society do not have a wonderful life. So they bring their baggage into the relationship. ‘Frankie & Johnny’ is about how you sort out the baggage and have a relationship anyway because nobody is perfect.”
“Johnny sees that Frankie is struggling with something,”
says Al Pacino. “Behind her wall he believes she is empathetic and compassionate. Johnny feels her need to be drawn out, and that need in her is tremendously attractive to him.”need in her is tremendously attractive to him.”
“The wonderful thing about being human and the san thing about being human is no matter how many times we ger hurt, we still manage to allow ourselves to have hope and to open up one more time,” comments Michelle Pfeiffer.
Screenwriter Terrence McNally didn’t have the legendary jealousy-ridden lovers from the famous song in mind when he wrote the play upon which the film is based, although McNally’s protagonists are aware of their mythic namesakes. “We were a
couple before we met,” Johnny tells Frankie.
McNally reflects on the feelings that inspired the writing of the film and play: “As individuals, we’re getting more and more self-sufficient and more separate. I don’t think it’s good to be able to say, ‘I don’t need anybody.’ There’s still the yearning. This story is a celebration of people who follow the yearning — and are willing to enter the joust once more.” The love of your life can be sitting right there and you don’t know it. Love is a miracle of the everyday. This is not about champagne and caviar. Frankie and Johnny have meat loaf sandwiches and milk.”
Marshall and McNally spent last summer working on the transition of the play to screenplay. Both creators love the workshop process and held many readings of the script as the writing progressed.
In the original script for the stage, McNally describes Frankie as having “striking but not conventional good looks, a sense of humor and a fairly tough exterior. She is also frightened and can be very hard to reach.”
In the screenplay, McNally brings Frankie back to the small Pennsylvania town of her childhood and Marshall cast DeDee Pfeiffer (Michelle’s Sister) to play Frankie’s cousin Toni, happily married with kids. Still single and pragmatic about it,
Frankie returns to her solo existence in New York.
Executive producer Alexandra Rose states, “This isn’t necessarily a New York City story. New York is symbolic of that vast crucible into which people fall; where they go in hope of a great change in their lives.”
Johnny is a man in the midst of life-altering change and wants to bring Frankie with him. A loquacious suitor, he inundates this wary woman with words of praise and pledges of love. True to McNally’s original description (“His best feature is his personality. He works at it.”), Johnny uses every resource he has to make the reluctant Frankie open up to the nature of trusting, relating and loving.
“Johnny has a gift for knowing the moment,” says Garry Marshall. “The other thing he has that you need for romance is
humor because humor is part of what makes people fall in love.”
FRANKIE AND JOHNNY AND ROMANCE IN THE ’90S
Like previous famous motion picture couples, Frankie and Johnny characterize the society that inspired their invention.
One of the questions posed by the film is the dilemma of what is better for an individual — being alone or having a relationship that may not work out?
“You know, when I first started in comedy, people said, ‘Well, I guess you sit around and make all these jokes,”
Marshall observes. “And really we didn’t. You sit around and mostly remember pain and embarrassment and turn it into humor.
And in drama, you remember the pain and embarrassment and turn it into drama. Pain is a big part of life.
“Al Pacino is playing a light-hearted and charming guy — a driving force, always going for the positive,” says Marshall.
“And Michelle Pfeiffer plays a woman whose self-esteem is so lows he doesn’t feel attractive and, in the beginning, isn’t particularly.”
“Years ago, Frankie came to New York with the vague intention of becoming an actress,” explains Pfeiffer. “She quit high school and now she’s self-conscious about her lack of education. But at the time she wanted to get out of where she was. I don’t think she was ambitious enough or particularly talented enough to break into acting. Nor did she have the kind of personality that could take the bouncing back all the time.
“Then, out of needfulness or naivete, she ended up in a series of negative relationships. People who’ve been hurt in life in some way, whether it’s physical or emotional, often come
to a psychological or emotional shutdown, and I think that’s where she is when Johnny comes into her life.
“At first she thinks, ‘Who is this guy?’ She thinks he’s a complete jerk. But he doesn’t take no for an answer. He is relentless,” Pfeiffer says. “I think Frankie is very courageous to try love again.”
“Frankie and Johnny are both survivors,” observes Al Pacino, “but what’s interesting about him is that he’s taking his disappointment and turning it into something positive.
“Johnny has just done some time in prison for forgery, for taking shortcuts. But while he was there he learned there was something he loved to do — he loved to cook. He wants to be a great cook and I think there’s something really moving about that because basically that’s what we look for–a way to express ourselves–whatever it is that we do. If we can do that, we’re lucky.
“And Johnny is always looking to learn. Word-learning is symbolic for his development. He’s in his middle age and he’s found that he has aspirations. It’s a youthful quality. And I think if we can find that in our own lives–at any age, at any period–it’s an affirmation. This is a guy who has made a second chance for himself.”
Executive producer Alexandra Rose believes men as well as women will readily understand Frankie’s situation. “Everyone has been hurt and disappointed in a relationship. Often people don’t open up to love because they’re afraid. They think they’re unworthy of someone else’s love. If they don’t value themselves, they’re suspect of someone who does. And, the saddest part is they’re afraid to fall in love because they’re afraid the person’s going to go away. If they open up and become vulnerable and this person leaves, they’ll be totally bereft and wounded again.
“That’s when they retreat to the apartment with the VCR and the pizza and insist, ‘I’m a self-contained person, I don’t need anybody else. I don’t want anybody else. Someone could hurt me and I don’t want to be hurt anymore.”
Marshall observes, “Many people say ‘I should have married that girl back in high school,’ or whatever. They think they missed their moment.”
“Actually, there are many moments in life,” comments Michelle Pfeiffer, “many opportunities that present themselves to us, whether it’s in a relationship or another kind of opportunity. It’s up to us, where we are, how open we are to it.
Pfeiffer emphasizes that Frankie is courageous as well as straightforward. “She reached a point in her life–which I think is true of many women her age–where she doesn’t want to live up to somebody else’s image of the perfect woman.
“The Apollo is a world where Frankie feels very safe, very accepted, and non-judged. She’s a good waitress and she likes her customers.”
Watching over this family-run operation is Nick, played by Hector Elizondo. “Life at the Apollo,” the actor comments, “is a microcosm of the world. The Apollo is a gathering place — in a sense, a small village in the middle of New York City. This
little United Nations is a very romantic and funny place, albeit intense at times. Nick is a bit of a patriarch and penurious as hell. He is very proud. He makes me laugh because he takes himself so, so seriously.
“For ‘Pretty Woman’ I was given full rein to create a man I’d like to work for, a person who perhaps I’d like to be — a delicious sort of challenge. This is a different kind of boss.
Nick feels he has good judgment because he has very strict ethical conduct, but he’s a bit atavistic. As an employer, and Frankie’s friend, he’s a bit ndisturbedabout this romantic thing between Frankie and Johnny.”
Kate Nelligan plays Cora, the sexy, streetwise waitress who first catches Johnny’s attention. “Cora is very attractive and sleeps with a lot of men,” says Nelligan. “She’s looking to stave off loneliness but doesn’t know how to accomplish that.
Her intention is to find somebody and figure out how to live.”
Comedian Jane Morris plays the chain-smoking Nedda, whom she describes as “the old battle-ax. She’s been there forever, every place has one. I had to search for friendly aspects of her but I’ll never reveal them; that’s Nedda’s secret life. If Frankie doesn’t watch out, she will end up old and bitter like Nedda.”
Garry Marshall adds, “Prince Charming or Cinderella may already be there in your life — the person next door, the person who works next to you, or the person you meet on the bus.
They’re a little flawed, but it’s them.”
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
“Frankie & Johnny” began filming January 29 at Paramount Studios and the adjacent Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. Before filming would be completed in New York City, interiors and some local Los Angeles location work were done during a three-month period concluding in the Sacramento area, where northern California highways doubled for the Pennsylvania countryside; and where Folsom prison–built in the 1880s of granite in the style of the Eastern penitentiaries–was used for the scene in which Johnny and his friend Les are released from a Pennsylvania prison.
Garry Marshall’s goal was to create an atmosphere of creative freedom on the set — “where anybody can suggest anything, try anything, say anything. I try to make them feel that I am like the net — you can go as high as you want and there’ll be the net and you’ll be fine.”
Nick’s Apollo Cafe, both interior and exterior, was built on an enormous Hollywood soundstage under the supervision of production designer Albert Brenner, a former New Yorker. The Chelsea area-styled restaurant seated approximately 200 and was flanked by a flower shop and a brick commercial building, alongside a street filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic with horns blaring, drivers swearing and the occasional fender-bender. The large set facilitated a lifelike flow of characters in and
out of a busy diner, including Johnny, who first visits the cafe with the help wanted section of the newspaper folded under his arm.
On the set, director of photography Dante Spinotti controlled the interior lighting by means of a computer programmed dimmer board operated at the side of the stage by a specially-trained gaffer. Each lamp was connected to one of 64 patches on the dimmer board so that the operator could dial in a lighting change from 30 to 100%, often to a fraction, to precisely evoke the time of day or night of the scene being filmed.
Central to the action in the diner is the open kitchen situated in the middle of the restaurant. Here Johnny, Tino, Peter, Jorge, and Luther keep the orders moving along in a fully functioning kitchen. The operation was equipped with commercial
stoves and ovens, along with a charbroiler, a salamander (heater), a deep fryer, and an all-purpose griddle.
While Al Pacino never went the route of the unknown actor waiting tables, he says he really enjoyed the experience of being a short order cook and practiced in New York at a restaurant and with friends who did have the experience.
“It’s a kind of joyful thing to do and an interesting challenge,” says Pacino. “You’ve got your french fries working here and on the griddle you’ve got your eggs and a hamburger. It’s fun to see if you can get all those things to come out at the same time. Johnny’s wild in the kitchen.”
Restaurateur Steve Restivo, a friend of Garry Marshall, examined the kitchen and gave Pacino some tips on handling pans, whipping eggs, cutting, slicing, boning; and shared pointers about keeping the griddle clean with the flat end of a spatula
and putting a towel on the oven when a dish is ready. Restivo appears on screen as Andreas, the night cook.
The dining area of the restaurant is decorated with a huge mural of Greece as befits its proud Greek-American proprietor.
Nick is also an avid soccer fan and player, evidenced by the many photos on display near the cash register — and the sling on his arm .
A portion of the New York Flowermart was created in a large warehouse that greensman Randy Martens and set dresser Kathe Klopp stocked to the rafters. Their shopping list included 20,000 carnations, 40,000 chrysanthemums, thousands more roses and gladioli, and 400 orchids, including cymbidian corsages one of which Johnny will pin on Frankie during their first date.
The floral selection encompassed Eastern nursery stock such as juniper, ficus and other typical New York houseplants.
Lower Manhattan is evoked in “Frankie & Johnny” through Frankie’s tiny apartment, typical of old West Side low-rent buildings, where Frankie has lived since arriving from Pennsylvania many years ago. This irregular one-room affair is barely a studio apartment.
A minimal kitchen is squeezed into a former hallway with a fold- down ironing board as the only counter. A sofa opens to a bed at night, consuming the limited floor space.
But, as befits its former grander life, the apartment has a wonderful large bay window. Unfortunately, the only views available are into the windows of apartments facing the back courtyard. These residents are observed by Frankie from her
apartment. For these anonymous characters established by McNally in the screenplay, Brenner constructed two more apartment buildings on Stage 17.
Costume designer Rosanna Norton says she received many details from Marshall about the neighbors whose lives are glimpsed through Frankie’s window.
“In all, there are 94 identifiable characters in the story,” says Norton, “and while each of them has a personality, many have no lines. The most effective way to describe these people is by their wardrobe, which is easy if someone’s a nurse, but more of a challenge if they’re the elderly neighbor, for example.
“On this film, it was fun to work out with the actors how they would gussy up the restaurant uniforms to express themselves, just like kids will do with school uniforms. Frankie
uses the plain uniform to hide her body and adds a few of her girlish elephant pins. Cora, on the other hand, hikes it up to a mini-skirt, adds mesh stockings, high heels and tons of jewelry.
Nedda manages to make it plainer with an old sweater and clunky shoes. Even the guys attempt to distinguish themselves beyond the uniform, like Johnny with his colorful array of bandannas.”
The play that inspired “Frankie & Johnny” opened on October 27, 1987 at the Manhattan Theatre Club and was transferred to the Westside Arts Theatre in early December that year. “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” won the Dramatists Guild’s Hull Warriner Award for Best Play and was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award. Terrence McNally’s play opened in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum in November 1988 and, since then, has been staged in hundreds of productions worldwide.