The Troll

“The Troll”

There were many who worked with Cloris Leachman before Harvey Kalmenson came along, and certainly many more who were privileged to follow in my footsteps.
But none will be able to claim more lasting joy forever than I.
Yes, I got to work with Cloris Leachman.
A day to last a lifetime!

        Right smack in the middle of working on a movie called “The Ice Whale”, at a meeting conducted by Don Bluth himself, we were informed the production was being stopped, and we were immediately beginning work on “A Troll In Central Park”.
NOTE: There’s quite a story that goes with the cause for Don Bluth making his decision, but perhaps one day someone will make a movie out of it. It won’t be da harv.
        “The Troll” was how I referred to it from day one. The next day, following the announcement, scripts began coming from Ireland. Pages kept flowing my way. I was enjoying everything about what was transpiring into a constant excitement and challenge it offered us all.
        After completing my personal script breakdown of the Troll, I was ready to move ahead with my celebrity choices for the some forty or so speaking roles, beginning with the lead(s) being cast first. My very first choice—to be sent to Don Bluth in Ireland, seeking his slam dunk approval—was for Cloris Leachman as “Queen Gnorga”. She would easily be our biggest named star of the film; I was sure of it.

Queen Gnorga from A Troll in Central Park (1994)

        Other than leading roles being written and secured as soon as possible (the nature of the way feature films take place, having to do with financing being secured), there is usually a flow of rewrites through the project duration, requiring additional and constant assignments being made throughout the casting.

        Early the very next morning, my supervisor, John, called me into his office to let me know he wanted many more actresses to choose from. I was absolutely shocked and disappointed, to say the least!

        John relayed the message from Don Bluth, loud and clear, he wasn’t familiar with Cloris Leachman’s work. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Come on, John”, I said. “Cloris has more awards for acting than just about any other currently living actress alive, and still at work and in constant demand!” All to no avail. The word had come from Don Bluth, and that was all there was to it.
        About eight weeks went by and almost all of my celebrity casting had been completed except for one remaining role, that of “Queen Gnorga”. Once again, I was told by John he wanted me to submit Cloris Leachman for the part. I got upset a little when I was told by John he got the idea for Cloris Leachman from his next door neighbor.
        “She was my first choice ten weeks ago, and you told me Don wasn’t familiar with her work!” He answered, “Well, he wants you to send him some samples of her work.” I explained to him her work was available in every English-speaking country in the world. “I mean… give me a break. This has to be one of the silliest assignments I’ve ever been given!”
        That same day and into the evening, I went after it like a rabid dog in search of food! Something different that would make Cloris the only possible choice in the world who could possibly be right for playing “Gnorga”.

        You read correctly. It isn’t unusual at all for it to take many weeks in order to cast the celebrity voices on an animated feature film, especially in today’s market arena when a casting director and the producers might be scattered all over the world. In this case, my work was made a little easier because of the fact it was a “favored nation’s arrangement for all the celebrity casting”. (All the celebs got the same money…) “The Troll” was about forty years ago. Much has changed, especially da harv!

        It was hard for me to believe it could be possible for the head of a studio not to have been familiar with the work of the one and only Cloris Leachman. It was like first-class “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”! Then, without notice, two good things happened—I can’t recall in what order.
        One of the premier artists at Sullivan Bluth, who was considered a key player with the company, explained to me over lunch the way the game had to be played here at Bluth. He explained it was all about ego. Turned out, Don Bluth knew all about Cloris Leachman. It was simply a fact of life: if it wasn’t Don’s idea first, it almost always wouldn’t happen.
        I received a call from a distant friend who worked at the UCLA Film library. He had discovered a recent series of film clips that had been put together in celebration of a Cloris Leachman birthday party. The film was almost entirely a collage of excerpts of scenes of her performing a wide variety of roles in award-winning performances being requested by guests at her birthday party.
        The next thing to do was get them off to Ireland and into Don’s hands, along with my note congratulating him on having chosen Cloris as his first choice. Within twenty-four hours, I was on the phone making a deal for Cloris to become our “Queen Gnorga”.
        The way it worked out: my first and only choice for the part of “Gnorga”, Cloris Leachman, ended up being the only celebrity casting that was never replaced during the production of “A Troll In Central Park”.

Harvey Kalmenson
Image Source(s): Harvey Kalmenson’s personal collection

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