The Guy Behind the Workplace Women
Had he lived beyond his sadly brief 47 years, Australian-American writer-director Colin Higgins (1941-1988) would have turned 75 today, and likely would have left a legacy beyond the quintet of theatrical features he’s strongly identified with. But those five movies are cards of a winning hand, adeptly cast with quirkily star-partner pairs: Harold and Maude (1971, Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort) and Silver Streak (1976, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor) as a screenwriter; and Foul Play (1978, Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982, Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton) and 9 to 5 (1980, a tantalizing trio of screen-debuting Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) as director/writer. The last-named was the most popular of the bunch, topping the then-considerable $100-million box-office mark while making mincemeat of gender inequality and male chauvinism in big business and spawning a catchy Oscar®-nominated title song that proved a potent and enduring mainstream hit for country music icon Parton, just as the movie itself launched her promising movie career. 9 to 5 was originally social activist Fonda’s idea; she and chosen screenwriter Patricia Resnick (who worked on the Robert Altman movies 3 Women, A Wedding and Quintet as well as the 1977 Broadway show Lily Tomlin in Appearing Nitely) did exhaustive research on office working conditions and came up with an edgier, darker comedy slant than Fonda had in mind. Resnick recalls the project’s evolution in this Rolling Stone interview with Tara Murtha from last December commemorating the movie’s 35th anniversary: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/9-to-5-turns-35-and-its-still-radical-today-20151218. Higgins then entered the picture, and the material was reshaped to broaden the comedy while retaining the topicality. Once filming got underway, the camaraderie and capabilities of three victimized office mates (new-to-the-job-market divorcee Fonda, beleaguered office manager Tomlin and department head’s personal assistant Parton) came into crisply funny focus as they schemed to turn the tables on their authoritarian boss (Dabney Coleman) and revamp the constrictions and increase the growth opportunities of their work environment. Moviegoers related – in droves – after that. “I must admit that I expected some tension,” Higgins told an interviewer in 1981. “But they were totally professional, great fun and a joy to work with. I just wish everything would be as easy. They have their different ways of working and it's interesting to see how they approach their roles.” Higgins’ role in crafting one of the signature workplace movie comedies of all time is no less significant than those of the formidable ladies he so ably shepherded. 9 to 5 enjoyed a vigorous afterlife as the sturdy basis of a 1980s TV series that employed talented ladies Rachel Dennison, Rita Moreno, Valerie Curtin and Sally Struthers, and a 2008-2009 Broadway musical adaptation (with book by Resnick and a full song score by Parton) that starred Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty and Marc Kudisch. With retrospective featurettes (including a Higgins tribute), a deliciously goofy gag reel, an Isolated Track of Charles Fox's sprightly score, a 2005 Audio Commentary with the three stars and producer Bruce Gilbert, plus a new Audio Commentary with the prolific Resnick (now working hard herself on the series Recovery Road and her own witty Patricia Resnick: Writing 9 to 5 show-biz blog http://www.patriciaresnick.com/) and TT’s ever-productive Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, 9 to 5 goes to work on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray starting September 13. Preorders open August 31.