VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the November 22, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.
Directed by Carl Reiner and written by Steve Gordon (who would direct his next script, Arthur, and then die at the age of 44), The One and Only has an unlikeable hero at its core. Andy Schmidt (Henry Winkler) is someone who thinks he’s better than everyone at everything he does, out for only himself, even using bit parts as opportunities to ruin everyone else’s work, as long as he gets noticed. He falls for Mary Crawford (Kim Darby), a college student who is already engaged. I have no idea why she falls for him, because there’s nothing there, despite something that she sees below whatever surface Andy has. Somehow, they get married and she has to learn that being the wife of a starving actor is harrowing.
Yet Andy finds something he’s good at. He may not have the build for it, but he’s great at wrestling. He’s brought into the business by little lothario Milton Miller (Hervé Villechaize) and starts working for Sidney Seltzer (Gene Sakes), who drops this knowledge on the audience: “There’s two kinds of people, those who put lampshades on lamps and those who put lampshades on their heads.”
Her parents — William Daniels and another sitcom star who took over the show she was just a secondary character on, Polly Holliday, who played Flo on Alice — don’t approve. And eventually, she gives up on Andy while they come around on him. They even become wrestling fans when he gets on network TV. And he really learns nothing, being the same person no matter what.
The film is well-written — Gordon was a sitcom veteran and writes wonderful dialogue — but you end up caring more about the accouterments of the film more than its characters. That said, it has lots of wrestling cameos, including Hard Boiled Haggerty — of course — as Captain Nemo, Chavo Guerrero Sr. as Indian Joe, ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Sr., Gene LaBelle — of course again — as the world champion, Ed Begley Jr. (not a wrestler, but still good in this) as Arnold the King and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as “Leatherneck” Joe Grady.
Throughout, Andy keeps trying to find a gimmick that works until finding The Lover, a man who believes that everyone should be in love with him. He understands what wrestler Raven preached about your character. It should be 80% you and 20% of the most idealized version of you, the you that you wish you could be. This movie gets a lot of pro wrestling right — I wrestled for over 25 years in the lowest rungs on the independent wrestling periphery — and the one part that it gets wrong is that most heels are the most giving and nicest people you’d ever meet. The faces, the good guys? They’re usually Andy Schmidt.
What’s amazing is that this movie came out at the height of Winkler’s Happy Days fame and he played a character totally unlike the Fonz. That’s brave and while not the best for this film’s box office, it was for his career. We’re still thinking about him today.
The working title of this movie was Gorgeous George, which makes sense, as “Gorgeous” George Raymond Wagner was a huge star in the early days of television, someone who was the kind of star that even casual non-fans would have known.
Winkler’s parents Ilse Anna Marie and Harry Irving Winkle left Germany in 1939, as they were Jewish people worried about the Nazis. The star told The Wall Street Journal, “At the time, my father, Harry, told my mother, Ilse, that they were traveling to the U.S. on a brief business trip. He knew they were never going back. Had he told my mother that they were leaving Germany for good, she might have insisted on remaining behind with her family. Many in their families who stayed perished during the Holocaust.” His Unlce Helmut was one of them. Knowing that, it’s astonishing that Winkler dresses in a Nazi gimmick in this movie.
But that’s very much in spirit of the carny roots of pro wrestling. It’s heat. And heat draws money.
Oh man! I forgot the best part! Mary Woronov is in this and gets set up with Hervé!