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12 Things You Didn't Know About the Dick Van Dyke Musical Classic

12 Things You Didn’t Know About the Dick Van Dyke Musical Classic
The cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ©United Artists/courtesy

A crackpot inventor with a flying car sounds like something out of Back to the Future, but Doc Brown was beaten to the punch by Dick Van Dyke’s Caractacus Potts, and the flux capacitor-fueled DeLorean by the winged Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a good 20 years before he and Marty McFly took flight. You’ll discover that for yourself, and a whole lot more, in the following **Chitty Chitty Bang Bang** facts.

In the 1968 musical, Dick Van Dyke portrays the widower Potts, who is doing his best to raise two children and working incredibly hard at improving their lives by having at least one of his seemingly insane inventions work to the point of being sold. That chance may present itself with a car that he’s managed to raise the funds for to enhance and restore — which has gained the interest of James Robertson Justice’s Lord Scrumptious.

But then Caractacus’ father is kidnapped by the henchman of Baron Bomburst (Gert Frobe) and the inventor finds himself teaming up with the lord’s daughter, Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) to get him back.

Along the way, we learn what the bad guy already knows: that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is far from an ordinary car: This one has been modified so that it can transform into a power boat and, at the perfect moment, take to the skies and save the day.

Adding more fun to the adventure are a number of tunes composed by siblings Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, who only a few years earlier had done the same for Disney’s Mary Poppins.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is just one of those family classics that takes one generation after another on a magical adventure, like The Wizard of Oz or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Anyone who has thrilled to a James Bond movie or read one of the novels, is well aware that the character was created by author Ian Fleming. What you might not realize is that, in looking for a change of pace and wanting to create something that his son, Caspar, could enjoy, he decided to try his hand at writing a children’s novel. The result was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, published in three volumes on Oct. 22, 1964, slightly less than two months after the writer’s death. The book’s actual title is Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, and it’s illustrated by John Burningham.

By 1968, Albert R. Broccoli (known as “Cubby” to anyone who knew him), had co-produced five James Bond films and, like that character’s creator, Ian Fleming, had the desire to produce a family film. Conveniently, Fleming had written one in the form of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In the photo above, Cubby is the guy sitting in the car. Behind him is Amanda Slayton, Michael Pain, and Peter Lamont, who designed the car for the film (and who is another person to work extensively on the James Bond series). The car itself is one used in the film, and the photo was taken in 1980 when it was being sold by British Car Auctions in England.

Born in 1895, Count Louis Vorow Zborowski was an English automobile engineer and race car driver. He was also the man who inspired Ian Fleming to write Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the first place. The count would take to the idea of building his own racing cars, coming up with designs for four of them in his short life (he died at the age of 29 when he crashed into a tree during a race). These cars, which he called “Chitty-Bang-Bangs,” were equipped with aero engines to provide them with greater speed.

Caractacus is the widowed father of two kids who is an eccentric inventor that makes a few interesting “tweaks” to the car that is known as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In a 1967 interview with film critic Roger Ebert, Dick previewed the film this way: “My next movie, believe it or not, is going to be based on a novel by Ian Fleming. It’ll be called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang… It’s based on Fleming’s only book for children. It’s about this ancient old automobile that has magical properties. When it starts up, it goes chitty chitty bang bang. And it can fly. I play a nutty inventor, and there’s a girl in it with a typical Fleming name: Truly Scrumptious. She’s played by Sally Anne Howes.”

By that time, of course, he was already a massive star. His pre-Chitty credits include his acclaimed role on the TV sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, and films like Bye Bye Birdie, What a Way to Go, Mary Poppins, and Divorce American Style.

He was actually reluctant to do the film, as he revealed in his autobiography My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business, “The movie’s producer, Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, known for his tight-fisted control of the James Bond movie franchise, desperately wanted to re-team Julie Andrews and me after the success we’d enjoyed with Mary Poppins. I can’t speak for Julie’s reasons, but both of us turned him down. I thought the script had too many holes and unanswered questions. However, each time I said no, Cubby came back with more money. I’m talking serious money — more than seven figures, which in those days was mind-boggling, plus a percentage of the back end, which I never counted on. So I finally agreed.”

In the film, the character of Truly Scrumptious was played by Sally Ann Howes, whose previous credits include Dead of Night, Anna Karenina, Fools Rush In, and The Golden Year. Originally wanted for the role was Julie Andrews, who had wowed audiences with her roles in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, but she turned it down feeling that Truly would be far too similar to those other roles. It’s the same reason that she would turn down Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks too. Interesting bit of trivia: Julie had starred on Broadway in My Fair Lady, and her replacement after she left was Sally Ann Howes.

Most fans of James Bond will point to Goldfinger as one of the best the series has had to offer, and a large part of that has to do with the fact that Gert Frobe portrayed 007’s opponent in that film, Auric Goldfinger. With that in mind, it’s hardly a surprise that the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang producers hired the actor to turn his diabolical nature on Caractacus and company.

It should be noted that in both instances — that of Goldfinger and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — Gert Frobe’s voice needed to be dubbed as the German-born actor barely spoke any English.

The film version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang actually differed greatly from the Ian Fleming book. Adapting it to the big screen was author Roald Dahl, whose books that became films include James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (yes, he gave us Mr. Willy Wonka), Matilda, The Witches, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The BFG. Ronald had also just worked with Cubby Broccoli, having scripted the fifth James Bond film, 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

The original songs that were featured on the soundtrack of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were written by brothers Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman. Besides that score, they also wrote the music for, among others, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Charlotte’s Web, and The Aristocrats. And then, of course, there’s that particular piece of earworm candy, “It’s a Small World (After All)” (we dare you to play that video below and see if the song doesn’t stay with you for the rest of the day).

In 2002, as has become very much the norm for classic films, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was adapted for the stage, initially at the London Palladium with a book by Jeremy Sams and music by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, who composed six new songs for the show. It played until September 2005 and features what Guinness World Records has documented as the most expensive stage prop ever, with the title car costing about $1.5 million.

Before the show ended its London run, an American version launched in April 2005 at the Lyric Theatre (which at the time was called the Hilton Theatre). That version didn’t fare as well, critically lambasted and was a financial failure. Nonetheless, three years later, a US National tour began with a revised script. Additional versions were mounted in Australia (2012) and Germany (2014).

Back in 2010, to commemorate the Blu-ray release of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, there was a special screening of the film at Pacific Theaters at the Grove in Los Angeles. Attending were original stars Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes, who walked the red carpet, of course.

In a recent television special devoted to Dick Van Dyke’s life and career, and celebrating his 98th birthday, part of the festivities included Seinfeld‘s Jason Alexander offering up his own rendition of the title song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The Ian Fleming estate has done a remarkable job of keeping James Bond alive in print by signing up authors to pen new adventures. In recent years, they’ve also done the same for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, bringing aboard writer Frank Cottrell Boyce to come up with (so far) three new adventures. In an interview with Kidsreads he reflected, “The first proper film I saw in the cinema was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I went with my cousins and a big bag of cherry lips [candy]. When the car fell off the cliff, I was absolutely rooted to the spot. And then when she flew, I think the whole cinema cheered. I love the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang stories because — despite all our amazing technology and new inventions — the idea of a car that can fly is still really magical.”

There are a whole lot of people out there who would absolutely agree as they hope for further adventures of that flying car.

Source: Getty Images,