Screenwriters Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver know how to get the party started and keep it lively.
"In 1946, my father placed third in a poll to name the most famous movie producer in America," Michael Todd Jr. said. "Know what was funny? At the time, he had never produced a single movie. Oh, he had a lot of deals going. He had a contract with Universal to make nine movies. He never made any.
"Finally he got a project rolling. It was a movie called 'Pick Up Girl,' and they were going to star Yvonne de Carlo. Dad said he wanted $350,000 to make the picture. The studio said he'd make it for a million or not at all. That was in the days when they had lots of money and liked to do things in style.
"So what he did was this. On the first day of shooting, he called the studio front office and said he needed $650,000 in $1 bills on the set. They asked what in hell for. He said he was planning to throw a big party for the press and burn the money."
Todd smiled. "Well," he said, "it would have been worth a million in publicity."
The younger Todd was in Chicago to promote "Around the World in 80 Days," which is the only movie his father ever actually made (unless you count the roller coaster sequences in "This Is Cinema").
"Around the World" opens, July 24 on a reserved-seat basis at, naturally, the Michael Todd Theater. Rights to the picture are controlled mostly by Michael Todd Jr. and by Elizabeth Taylor, his stepmother.
"Some stepmother," said Todd, who is 38. Miss Taylor is two years younger, which once led the senior Todd to describe her as his junior's junior. The two have shared in "Around the World's" earnings to date, which run about $85,000,000, and are looking forward to additional box office of $34,000,000 this time around. It cost $6,500,000 to make, one of the most expensive pictures of its time, and Todd, said it will never be shown on TV. "Like 'Gone with the Wind,' it's good for indefinite, re-releases on a reserved-seat, basis," he said.
If Todd Jr. were a bit taller, he would be of the type, described as tall, dark and handsome. Unlike his famous father, who died in an airplane crash in 1958, he hasn't exactly had to fight his way up from the bottom.
He's frank about that. "Dad left me in the fortunate position of being able to do more or less what I want," he said. Current projects include a book about his father, a movie about hippies and a novel.
"I enjoy writing as much as anything," he said. "At Amherst, I was a philosophy major. Another philosophy major at Amherst was Howie Ziff of the Daily News. There were seven philosophy students there at the time, and the other five were all conscientious objectors.
"Me, I played football. I was on the reserve squad, running our opponent's play against the varsity. I scored 14 touchdowns in three years, all against our own team. But I guess you have to be philosophical."