How Jobs-as-FDR film was made... and Chaplin 'cameo' wasn't

Trio involved in production of Apple's long-lost '1944' tell story behind the film


Rather than use a voice impressionist, Steve Jobs insisted on delivering his FDR speech himself in a long-lost Apple film called "1944," which was posted here last week and has since gone viral to generally cheery reviews ... with the notable exception being jeers for Jobs' attempt to sound like FDR.

In addition, were it not for copyright obstacles, that scene would have included a photo "cameo" by Charlie Chaplin playing Adolph Hitler. (Pity.) The hammer-throwing athlete/actress from "1944" is not the same woman who starred in "1984," the famous first Macintosh TV ad on which "1944" was based. And, for those of you who have written to insist that Jobs appears in multiple roles - the apple-eating soldier, foremost - I am sorry, but you are mistaken.

These back-story recollections come via my e-mail exchanges with a trio of individuals involved in the film's making: Michael Markman, a freelance producer at the time who went on to become Apple's director of worldwide advertising; Glenn Lambert, who wrote the script; and Christopher Korody, whose now-defunct Los Angeles company, Image Stream, put it all together.

(25 other geeky happenings from 1984)

"Several years later, there was an early book on Jobs, Apple, and the Mac, in which Steve claimed that the whole video had been his idea," says Lambert. "I've always taken that as a compliment to those of us who actually made it."

A copy of "1944" was given to me by former Apple employee Craig Elliott, now co-founder and CEO of cloud-computing startup Pertino Networks. In case you haven't seen it yet, here is the scene where Jobs plays FDR:

And here's an edited version of the incredibly detailed back story Markman sent me yesterday, followed by Korody and a few video clips filling in more blanks :

We had been involved in producing audio-visual modules and stage productions for Apple sales conferences and product introductions - including the 1983 sales conference where Macintosh was first shown to the sales force and the now-famous Software Dating Game ...

... was staged. Image Stream also staged the 1984 shareholder's meeting where Steve pulled the Mac out of a cloth bag ...

... and first showed it to the world at large.

At this (Hawaii) conference, Image Stream produced media and staging for all of the general sessions and some of the breakouts. We did the opening from an idea that Steve himself came up with: "Bluebusters."

It was the year of Ghostbusters, and Steve thought it would be cool to do a parody of the song and produce a video where Apple vanquished the forces of IBM. It was clear that the metaphor of Apple as the liberator of the office worker wasn't confined to the famous "1984 commercial. It ran deep.

(Editor's note: Two-minute versions of "Bluebusters" have been on YouTube for several years, but here's a four-minute version - director's cut? -- provided to me by Craig Elliott. Unlike "1944," Steve Wozniak makes a cameo appearance in this one. ... Then we're back to Markman's story.)

(Scriptwriter) Glenn (Lambert) and I flew to Cupertino for a briefing with the head of Mac marketing, Mike Murray. We hoped that we'd get some background information, head back to L.A., talk on the plane, eventually come up with something, work up storyboards and head back to Cupertino and pitch our idea to Apple.

Mike talked to us in general terms about marketing strategy. He said that in 1984, Macintosh had established a beachhead in businesses, but had very little penetration so far compared to IBM. In the coming year, however, with new products coming on line - including a laser printer, a revolutionary plug-and-play network architecture (AppleTalk), a file server, new software, and ways to bridge into existing IBM networks, Mac would move in from the beach.

If you know Apple history, you'll know that some of those products didn't make it to market on time. AppleTalk and the LaserWriter were the few that shipped. The rest of what was termed "The Macintosh Office" was announced, but were not ready for the market. In 1985, Mac sales stalled. Apple went into crisis. Steve into exile - until 1997.  Mike Murray moved on to Microsoft where he became VP of HR.

As Glenn and I listened to Mike talk about beachheads and market penetration, and as we watched him draw on his white board, the parallels to the landings at Normandy seemed obvious. I think Glenn was first to connect 1984 to 1944. (Editor's note: Lambert credits Markman with suggesting Jobs play FDR.)

Glenn, Mike, and I began brainstorming right there in the office. IBM had Charlie Chaplin... And, it turns out that Charlie Chaplin not only had a Hitler-like mustache, he had actually done a Hitler sendup in "The Great Dictator." We could show oppressed workers liberated by the brave forces of Macintosh. We got so excited by the idea that Mike wanted to rush right in and pitch it to Steve.

I called Chris in L.A. to outline what we were thinking. War movie. Stock footage from the D-day landings. Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel hanging on the wall. (Editor's note: Lawyers nixed that idea.) Mac marketing team in cameo roles. And the topper: Steve as FDR.  He said he'd start looking for a director.

So, Glenn, Mike, and I marched into Steve's office to give him the pitch. Steve's eyes were sparkling through it all. By the time I got to, "and you as FDR," I had made the sale. In the binary universe of Steve Jobs, something is either a zero or a one. This was a one. Instantly.

Glenn and I had discussed getting a professional impressionist to dub in the FDR dialog. When we mentioned that to Steve, he immediately jumped in to say, "No, I'll do the voice myself."

Steve flew to L.A. for his bit. We filmed him at a sound stage not far from LAX.

Image Stream's Christopher Korody fills in a few details about the cast and technology used:

"The Colonel" is or was a character actor... too old to be anyone in the PC business at the time. In fact with the exception of Mike Murray, Tricia Willcoxon (the Army WAC), Steve and a guy I only remember as Alfred who played an aide de camp, everyone else was an extra cast for the production. (Editor's note: Markman says "Alfred" is "Alfred Mandel, who, in the days of fanciful Apple titles, had a business card reading, 'Marketing Ninja.' " ... Someone, I can't remember who, told me he's related to Howie Mandel.)

Pretty much every frame we shot is in the edit - who knows where the negative and Nagra tapes are. Yes it was shot in 16mm film, cut on a Moviola and the negative was conformed prior to transfer - most likely to 1" videotape.

To give credit where it is due, 1944 was directed by Bud Schaetzle and produced by his partner Martin Fisher. Their company was called High Five Productions, and they went on to do several other film projects for Image Stream. Technically I was the Executive Producer, Michael Markman was the Creative Director (an agency concept not a film title) and Glenn was the writer (a universal title and talent that it is never sufficiently appreciated.)

And now for just a few loose ends.

Was the hammer thrower in "1944" the same Anya Major who starred in "1984"?

"It is a different blond," says Korody, "Hollywood does not have a shortage."

And what of all those people who believe the film's apple-eating soldier is also Steve Jobs?

"I see the resemblance. But that particular Apple Guy is not Steve Jobs," says Markman. "His time for this project was very limited. He basically did his one scene. Didn't hang out for the big shoot. Didn't have any cameos."

Korody confirms: "I can tell you with absolute authority that Steve came down, did the FDR shoot (was a peach about it and seemed to enjoy it all enormously) and went back to Cupertino.I know because I drove him to the airport."

That's a wrap.

(Update: I didn't realize this yesterday, but -- if you just can't get enough of this -- Markman's full account can be found on his blog.)

Welcome regulars and passersby. Here are a few more recent buzzblog items. And, if you’d like to receive Buzzblog via e-mail newsletter, here’s where to sign up. You can follow me on Twitter here and on Google+ here.

  • 2012’s 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries.
  • “Hilarious Unix admin tools”
  • When touring the Large Hadron Collider, stay with your group
  • Looks like Apple paid off victim of ham-handed iPhone search
  • The 50 best “Bragging Rights” claimed on Google+
  • “Moon landing was a hoax” crowd will love this NASA video
  • Watch a blind man behind wheel of Google’s self-driving car.
  • More fun with naming wireless nets.
  • Firewall fail: A tale both funny and sad.
  • Techies are spending a lot of time on PCs in our post-PC world.
  • If the “ridiculous” Dow had chosen Apple instead of Cisco.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022