Mods and Rockers Festival: Skidoo

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET


Writer Paul Krassner shares his recollections about the 1968 acid-comedy film Skidoo directed by Otto Preminger. The movie has its first 35mm screening in Los Angeles in over 25 years on Saturday July 14 at the Mods & Rockers Film Festival in Hollywood.

Timothy Leary had a certain sense of pride about the prominent people he and his associates had introduced to the psychedelic revolution. He once told me the names of some of the folks whose lives had been changed by taking LSD. Among them: director Otto Preminger, actor Cary Grant, conservative think-tanker Herman Kahn, Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson, Time magazine publishers Henry and Clare Booth Luce.

"But," Leary told me, "I consider Otto Preminger one of our failures."

I first met Preminger in 1960 when I interviewed him about censorship for Playboy. He had defied Hollywood's official seal of approval by refusing to change the script for The Moon Is Blue. He wouldn't take out the dreaded word "virgin."

At the end of our taped interview, he asked, "Ven you tronscripe dis, vill you fix up my Henglish?"

"Oh, sure," I replied quickly. "Of course."

"Vy? Vot's drong viz my Henglish?"

I saw himr again in 1967. He was making a film titled Skidoo, starring Jackie Gleason as a retired organized crime figure. Preminger told me he had originally intended the role for Frank Sinatra. I was hanging around with friends from the Hog Farm commune, who were extras in the movie (and who, two years later, would be preparing free breakfast outdoors for 400,000 hungry humans at the Woodstock festival).

Anyway, Skidoo was pro-acid propaganda thinly disguised as a comedy adventure. However, LSD was not the reason that the FBI was annoyed with the film. Rather, according to Gleason's FBI files, they objected to one scene in the script where a file cabinet is stolen from an FBI building. Gleason was later approved as a special FBI contact in the entertainment business.

One of the characters in Skidoo was a Mafia chieftain named God. Screenwriter Bill Cannon had suggested Groucho Marx for the part. Preminger said it wasn't a good idea, but since they were already shooting, and that particular character was needed on the set in three days, Groucho got the job. During one scene, Preminger was screaming instructions at him.

Groucho yelled back, "Are you drunk?"

When Skidoo was released in 1968, Tim Leary saw it, and he cheerfully admitted, "I was fooled by Otto Preminger. He's much hipper than me."

Skidoo is not available on tape or DVD, but it has a certain cult following that reminds me of a secret in a coffee table book--PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives--compiled by Frank Warren. It consists entirely of photos of actual postcards, each revealing a personal secret of the anonymous sender that has never been told to anybody. They're hysterical and horrific, bizarre and cathartic, poignant and shocking.

The particular postcard I have in mind reads: "I've created over a dozen T-shirts with quotes and photos from obscure films in hopes that someone will recognize them and be the true-blue best friend that I've always dreamed of." Who knows, maybe Skidoo is one of those obscure films, and the T-shirt has a quote from a prisoner who's been dosed with LSD--"I don't have to rape anybody any more"--with a photo of Groucho Marx playing God.