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Requiem for a Heavyweight was a teleplay written by Rod Serling and produced for the live television show Playhouse 90 on 11 October 1956. Six years later, it was filmed as a 1962 movie starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, and Mickey Rooney.

The teleplay won a Peabody Award, the first given to an individual script, and helped establish Serling's reputation. The broadcast was directed by Ralph Nelson and is generally considered one of the most famous examples of live television drama in the United States, as well as being Serling's personal favorite of his own work.

American television version

Jack Palance portrays Harlan "Mountain" McClintock, a once-promising but now washed-up boxer who faces the end of his career after he is savagely defeated by a younger boxer. Keenan Wynn portrays McClintock's manager Maish; Keenan's father Ed plays McClintock's cut man, Army.

McClintock is suffering from Dementia pugilistica or "punch drunk syndrome" -- brain damage caused by his career. A fight doctor refuses to certify McClintock for further boxing, saying that another rough match could blind or even kill him. Boxing is all McClintock has ever known, and he's both terrified of trying something new, and intensely loyal to Maish, who has nurtured him from his youth. Maish has troubles of his own, however: he owes money to the Mafia and tried to raise funds by betting against McClintock.

Kim Hunter portrayed Grace Carney, an employment agency worker who tries to help the boxer make a transition to a new career. Maish persuades the boxer to turn to professional wrestling, though McClintock is proud that he never had a fixed fight and is uncomfortable with the staged, predetermined wrestling match.

Army disapproves of Maish's plans and refuses to be a part of them. Just before he's scheduled to go into the wrestling ring in a humiliating mountain man costume, McClintock learns of Maish's betting against him, and parts ways with his manager and mentor. Though he feels that boxing can ruin men's lives, Maish finds another promising young boxer to train. McClintock takes a chance on working with children at summer camp.

Because Serling and Palance were both experienced boxers, they brought a level of authenticity to Requiem for a Heavyweight, although there was very little boxing depicted in the broadcast. Requiem for a Heavyweight was the beginning of what became one of the new medium's most successful creative teams, writer Rod Serling and director Ralph Nelson.

Jack Palance ... Harlan 'Mountain' McClintock

Keenan Wynn        ... Maish
Kim Hunter ... Grace Carney
Ed Wynn ... Army
Joe Abdullah ... Fight Announcer
Max Baer ... Mike
Eddie Cantor ... Host
Ted Christy ... Wrestler
Karl 'Killer' Davis ... Wrestler
Ned Glass ... Bartender
Young Jack Johnson ... Champ
Lyn Osborn ... Photographer
Ivan Rasputin ... Wrestler
Frank Richards ... Fighter in Bar
Max Rosenbloom ... Steve

British television version

BBC Television in the United Kingdommarker screened a version of the play in their regular Sunday Night Theatre anthology strand on March 31 1957. Sean Connery, five years before portraying James Bond, starred as McClintock, while Alvin Rakoff produced and, with Serling's approval, also wrote some new material to cover costume changes that took place during commercial breaks on US television, but could not do so on the non-commercial BBC. Co-starring with Connery were Warren Mitchell and Rakoff's future wife Jacqueline Hill, who had recommended Connery for the leading part. Michael Caine was featured in a small role in a new scene written by Rakoff.

This production was reviewed in The Times newspaper the following day, which gave it a generally positive assessment, with some reservations. "It is unfortunate that Mr. Serling has allowed a saccharine romance to intrude into this self-sufficient and wholly masculine situation. Otherwise his touch is sure. Although physically miscast as the fighter, Mr. Sean Connery played with a shambling and inarticulate charm that almost made the love affair credible."

Dutch television version

In 1959 Dutch television adapted the story as Requiem voor een zwaargewicht.

Ko Van Dijk    ... Malloy
Ton Van Duinhoven ... Manager
Jan Blasser ... Verzorger

Film version

Ralph Nelson also directed a movie version in 1962 with Anthony Quinn in the role originated by Jack Palance, with Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney in the parts portrayed on television by Keenan Wynn and his father Ed Wynn. The part of social worker Grace Miller in the film went to Julie Harris

Muhammad Ali, then still using his birth name, Cassius Clay, appears as Quinn's opponent in a boxing match at the beginning of the movie, a memorable sequence filmed with the camera providing Quinn's point of view as the unstoppable Clay rapidly punches directly at the movie audience.

The film version is somewhat bleaker in its plotline than the original teleplay. Mountain is to interview for a counselor position at a children's camp, but he gets drunk with Maish instead. He embarrasses himself at the hotel where the interview is to take place, behaving drunkenly in plain sight of the camp owners. Grace follows Mountain home to try to understand what went wrong, and though they are attracted to each other, Mountain's aggression scares Grace off. She confronts Maish in tears, condemning him for controlling Mountain and ruining his chance to make a new life for himself.

To pay off Maish's gambling debts, Mountain agrees to perform as an Indian, "wrestling" dwarves in a staged match. Humiliated, he changes his mind and is about to leave when "Ma" Greeny and her thugs threaten Maish. In the last scene of the film, Mountain enters the ring, ridiculed by the crowd.

Anthony Quinn ... Luis 'Mountain' Rivera

Jackie Gleason        ... Maish Rennick
Mickey Rooney ... Army
Julie Harris ... Grace Miller
Stanley Adams ... Perelli (as Stan Adams)
Madame Spivy ... Ma Greeny
Cassius Clay ... Himself

Val Avery    ... Young fighter's promoter
Herbie Faye ... Charlie, the Bartender
Jack Dempsey ... Himself
Haystacks Calhoun ... Himself

The Man in the Funny Suit

In 1960, Ralph Nelson wrote and directed The Man in the Funny Suit, a dramatic account of Keenan Wynn's travails in helping his father, legendary comedian Ed Wynn, play such a serious role on live television in Requiem for a Heavyweight. Ed Wynn went on to play equally serious roles in The Great Man and the 1959 version of The Diary of Anne Frank. The Man in the Funny Suit was telecast as an installment of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse with Rod Serling and Red Skelton playing themselves. The Man in the Funny Suit is available for public viewing at The Paley Center for Media in New York Citymarker and Los Angelesmarker.

Keenan Wynn ... Keenan Wynn

Ed Wynn ... Ed Wynn

Rod Serling ... Rod Serling

Maxine Stuart ... Sharley Wynn

Ralph Nelson ... Ralph Nelson

Red Skelton ... Red Skelton

Bob Mathias ... Bob Mathias

William Roerick ... Martin Manulis

Max Rosenbloom ... Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom

Seymour Berns ... Skelton's Director

Robin Blake ... Script Girl

Joey Faye ... Latecomer

Ned Glass ... Ed Wynn's Understudy

Charlene Glazer ... Secretary

Drew Handley ... Assistant Director

Robert H. Harris ... Technical Director

Richard Joy ... Announcer

Bill Walker ... Porter


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