Who Framed Michael Eisner
When it comes to rumours and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you all know the drill. Eddie Valiant and Jessica chase Judge Doom out of Toontown, they crash spectacularly, sail through the air, Jessica’s dress hitches up, and you may or may not be able to see her hairy minge. The whole thing has been investigated in great detail, although frankly not quite enough detail for my taste.
Still, that’s not what this piece is about. No, my query is about another rumour associated with the film – and specifically, about this scene in Toontown with Eddie:
We’ll let the previously linked to Snopes article give us the basics (emphasis mine):
“In another scene, Bob Hoskins steps into a Toon Town men’s room. Graffiti on the wall reads “For a good time, call Allyson Wonderland”, with the phrase “The Best Is Yet to Be” appearing underneath it. Allegedly, Disney chairman Michael Eisner’s phone number replaces the latter phrase for one frame. Although the “Allyson Wonderland” graffiti is clearly visible on laserdisc, Eisner’s phone number is not. If the phone number was in the film originally (as rumor has it was), it was removed before the home versions of the movie were made available.”
The removal of this phone number seems to apply to every single home version of the film I – or seemingly anyone – has ever come across. LaserDisc, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, the lot. If Eisner’s phone number was ever there in the film’s theatrical release, it’s gone from the retail versions. If is was ever there, of course. Because without evidence, this really starts to take on the feeling of an urban legend. Notably, Snopes has no actual evidence to offer, and the article goes out its way to label the phone number story as a rumour.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the two sources for the Snopes article – two of the very earliest reports which mention Eisner’s phone number in connection with the film. Firstly, “Jessica Rabbit Revealed” from Variety, dated 13th March 19941:
“Other scenes Buzz heard were in the original film were undetectable on laserdisc. One scene showed Hoskins stepping into a Toon Town men’s room, where some graffiti was scrawled on the wall. It read “For a good time, call Allyson Wonderland,” and, right beneath that, “The Best Is Yet to Be.” In one frame, the latter message was supposedly replaced by Disney chairman Michael Eisner’s home phone number. The pranksters must have eradicated that frame for the laserdisc version.
The other source given is “Toontown Tricksters” from The Washington Post, dated 18th March 1994:
“The Disney flap was created when viewers freezing frames during certain scenes on the “Rabbit” laser disc discovered full frontal nudity, graffiti that advertises Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s home phone number, and — at a certain split second when Jessica Rabbit’s dress flips up — not undies, but just sweet nothing.”
Oddly enough, this directly contradicts the Variety report, which stated the phone number never made it onto the LaserDisc. Whether this is a bit of misreporting, or the phone number genuinely appeared on an early pressing is up for debate – although certainly no images of it have appeared online, which makes me strongly suspect the former.
All of which puts us in rather a quandary. The only thing we can do when judging a rumour like this is by looking at the evidence. And so far, there has been precisely no evidence that this phone number jape ever happened. We know there were reports about it at the time, certainly, which lends it a bit more credence than some rumour popping up years later. But the fact remains: despite this anecdote being parroted every so often, there is no actual evidence that it ever happened. Maybe the phone number was present in a workprint, but cut before theatrical release. Maybe it was just a funny idea that somebody on the production had, but was never actually put into practice. Or maybe someone just wanted to worry Michael Eisner, without getting into trouble by actually doing it. With no evidence, anything is possible.
On the other hand: why would there be easily-obtainable evidence? That Washington Post article aside, every report indicates that the offending frame was cut for all home releases of the film. Eisner’s phone number apparently only appeared in the theatrical release. And annoyingly enough, I just don’t appear to have any contemporary 35mm prints of the film lying around. Drat. More to the point, very few people would have access to such prints. The rumour seems close to being unprovable.
Except… maybe not. Take, for example, the other famous case of a phone number prank played on the great and the good – David Frost’s telephone number being included in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Specifically, the sketch “The Mouse Problem”, from the episode Sex and Violence (TX: 12/10/69). The sketch in its widely-available form is below:
Now, the address given out at 2:28 in the sketch? We’ll let David Frost himself take up the story. From David Frost: An Autobiography (HarperCollins, 1994, p, 505):
“Luisa, my housekeeper in London, had an eventful time that particular week while I was away. The reason was simple. John Cleese had included my telephone number in a sketch on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. John, playing an interviewer, had been speaking to a man who thought he was a mouse, and other people who had the same problem were invited to call 584 5313. Luisa told The Daily Telegraph, ‘The telephone never stopped. One caller said, “Am I calling the mice? Can I have some cheese?”’
In his explanation to the Telegraph, John managed to blame the whole thing on the viewers! ‘When we are doing scripts, we often use friends’ numbers and addresses. I don’t see why anybody should telephone the number. Perhaps they haven’t got anything better to do.’
Python addicts those days were clearly insomniacs. Luisa said the calls went on until four in the morning, when she managed to get the Post Office to start intercepting them.”
It’s worth noting that this account is slightly inaccurate with regards to what was presented on-screen. As can be seen in the actual sketch embedded above, whilst it’s true that it’s Cleese reading out the name and address, he actually plays the man who dresses up as a mouse, not the interviewer. More importantly, viewers “with the same problem” were most certainly not explicitly invited to ring the number, which is there purely as a gag about giving specific information about someone who wishes to be anonymous. I suppose you could argue there’s an implicit invitation, but that’s a slightly different matter. Yes, yes, I know.
Anyway, it will not have escaped your attention that the sketch embedded above very much does not contain Frost’s phone number. Inevitably in these matters, we have to turn to Andrew Pixley for the real story. From his brilliant behind-the-scenes look at the show, published in TV Zone #146, December 2001:
“Broadcast of the second episode brought Python its first controversy. Like several other episodes, the version which is currently in circulation is not that originally broadcast since re-editing had to be undertaken. In this case this was to remove the home number of David Frost which viewers had been urged to call2, resulting in Frost complaining to the BBC and the Postmaster General. It was then discovered that another sketch to be recorded was about to use Frost’s home address; both were hurriedly re-recorded with new inserts by Cleese. The episode was re-edited in August 1970 and it is this version that is now in circulation.”
So, the version of the sketch with Frost’s phone number has been unseen since 1969? It seems a fairly safe bet that we’ll never see that original version again, yes? That is, until footage of the original studio recording of the episode surfaced.3 Here is a still of the original, Frost’s phone number and all:
Two amusing notes about this. As this was taken from a recording of the actual studio session rather than a copy of the original version of the episode, it includes Cleese’s unbroadcast comments before and after reading the address. Beforehand, sotto voice: “It’s quite funny, this bit.” And after the address has been read out? “And ask for Dave…” I’m not entirely sure there is anything else funnier in the world than John Cleese deliberately screwing over David Frost.
So there we have it. A wonderful bit of Python mischief-making, unseen for years. Delightful. And – finally joining up the dots from the beginning of this article – if such a thing can surface from a 1969 BBC TV series, surely it’s not impossible for the same to happen to a 1988 Hollywood flick?
Michael Eisner’s phone number. Was it ever actually part of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Or did it never actually happen? COME ON BOFFINS, LET’S SORT THIS OUT ONCE AND FOR ALL.
With many thanks to esteemed Python researcher and expert James Gent for his assistance with this article.
This article also mentions a rumour I have never heard before: of “a chipmunk in Snow White who defecates in the forest”. I’ll leave it to someone else to investigate that one. ↩
Far be it for me to quibble with Andrew Pixley, but just as I said about Frost, I would disagree viewers are “urged to call” the phone number in the sketch. ↩
I first saw it on YouTube, but it’s long since been removed. I won’t be uploading a copy of the video here, I’m afraid. ↩