After his career-changing performance in Airplane!, Leslie Nielsen teamed up with Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker again for the ABC parody show Police Squad! in 1982. After six episodes, it was canceled (though some people were clearly watching it, as it was nominated for two Emmy Awards). Six years later, the show found new life and pronounced success as a comedy movie franchise, beginning with 1988’s The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!.
Nielsen returned as detective Frank Drebin, an inept police officer who uncovers an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II, and falls for the villain Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalbán)’s assistant, Jane Spencer, in Priscilla Presley’s first major film role. O.J. Simpson also took a repeated beating as Detective Nordberg. Here are some facts about the film that will make you notice birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, and stoplights for the first time.
1. THE ORIGINAL TITLE FOR THE FILM SOUNDED TOO SIMILAR TO ANOTHER POLICE MOVIE FRANCHISE.
The Zuckers and Abrahams (known in shorthand as ZAZ) were informed by Paramount Pictures that Police Squad wasn’t a suitable title because it was too similar to Police Academy (Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach came out in March of 1988). The filmmakers were given a list of 20 other titles, and chose Naked Gun because “it promised so much more than it could ever possibly deliver.”
2. PRISCILLA PRESLEY HAD NEVER DONE COMEDY BEFORE.
She was cast by ZAZ for the same reason that other actors mostly known for serious roles were put in their movies: it makes the dry parody even funnier. Presley had worked on the show Dallas. Zucker often quipped that the only problem with her was when her ex, Elvis, visited the set.
3. GEORGE KENNEDY HAD WANTED TO WORK WITH THE ZUCKERS AND ABRAHAMS FOR YEARS.
George Kennedy (Ed Hocken) recalled in his memoir: “The first time I met ZAZ, the three of them were in their office at Paramount, and I read a headline from a newspaper in their waiting room: ‘Legless Boy Cartwheels Down Hill to Save Dad.’ A beat. Eruptions of laughter from all, and we were friends.” Kennedy was first offered Lloyd Bridges’ part in Airplane!, but was busy working and making good money acting in the ongoing Airport movie series.
4. KENNEDY WASN’T A FAN OF THE FILMING PROCESS.
Kennedy claimed that the Zucker brothers (David was the credited director for the first Naked Gun film) didn’t believe in doing any scene without 40 or more takes, and that telling a joke 40-plus times in front of a camera was “painful.”
5. THE ZUCKERS DIDN’T LOOK FAR FOR THEIR CASTING OF DOMINIQUE, LUDWIG’S SECRETARY.
She was played by Charlotte Zucker, Jerry and David’s mother.
6. THEY DREW FROM SEVERAL OLDER MOVIES.
The Charlotte Rampling and Robert Mitchum movie Farewell, My Lovely (1975) was where the scene of Priscilla Presley gliding down the stairs came from (the falling part was the comedic twist). The assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle in The Day of the Jackal (1973) gave ZAZ the idea for the assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II. Mad magazine, the Dirty Harry movies, and the cop series M Squad were other cited sources of satirization.
7. THE PAINTING DREBIN DESTROYED IS THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH'S THE BLUE BOY.
8. IT WAS JOHN HOUSEMAN’S FINAL FILM ROLE.
Houseman played the middle finger-raising driving instructor. Houseman collaborated with Orson Welles on the infamous The War of the Worlds radio broadcast and on Citizen Kane. In 1974, he won a Best Supporting Acting Oscar for the his role in The Paper Chase. A week before The Naked Gun was released, Houseman also made a cameo in Scrooged.
9. WEIRD AL YANKOVIC’S CAMEO WAS A DREAM COME TRUE.
Police Squad! was his favorite TV show. He would have been satisfied with just being an extra in the movie. When the Zuckers heard that he was a fan, they wrote the scene of him on the plane.
10. WEIRD AL TOOK FIRST DATES TO SEE THE MOVIE, WITHOUT TELLING THEM HE WAS IN IT.
His dates “flipped out,” according to Yankovic. He always wore the same Hawaiian shirt as his big-screen self.
11. THE QUEEN’S RECEPTION WAS SHOT AT THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL.
The hotel permanently closed to guests one month later, and was demolished in 2005. You’ve seen the hotel in a number of films, including The Graduate, Pretty Woman, Forrest Gump, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
12. THE QUEEN ELIZABETH II ACTRESS MADE A LIVING AS A QUEEN ELIZABETH II IMPERSONATOR.
Jeannette Charles got her start in 1971, after she had a portrait of herself painted as a gift to her husband. The artist later remarked on her resemblance to Her Majesty in a newspaper interview. She appeared as the Queen in numerous TV shows and movies, including European Vacation and Austin Powers in Goldmember. Charles turned down a role in Ali G Indahouse because she thought the scene was disrespectful. Charles retired in 2004.
13. TIM MCCARVER WAS PAID A TINY AMOUNT FOR PLAYING ONE OF THE (MANY) BASEBALL ANNOUNCERS.
McCarver said he would have given back his “puny” salary to have actually been on set with Nielsen, who he was a huge fan of since he saw Airplane!.
14. REGGIE JACKSON WAS RETIRED BY THE TIME THE MOVIE CAME OUT.
He was an Oakland Athletic, not an Angel, for his final season in 1987.
15. YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN THE GUY WHO SHOUTED "IT’S ENRICO PALLAZZO!" BEFORE.
Mark Holton was also bike thief Francis Buxton in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and Chubby in Teen Wolf.
16. NIELSEN PERFORMED FOR QUEEN ELIZABETH II IN 2005.
The two were both on hand for the Saskatchewan Centennial Gala to celebrate Nielsen’s birth province in Canada. The actor performed for a crowd of 13,000, which included the Queen.
17. THE NAKED GUN THEME SONG PLAYED AT NIELSEN’S FUNERAL.
Nielsen passed away on November 28, 2010 at the age of 84 and was laid to rest in Fort Lauderdale. Dominik Hauser’s theme played as the Canadian Mounted Police carried his coffin.
18. ED HELMS IS SET TO STAR IN A NEW NAKED GUN MOVIE.
David Zucker said he has no involvement in it, despite being asked.