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HOW ON EARTH DID JOAN RIVERS GET BILLY CRYSTAL PREGNANT?

Long before Barbra Streisand first sat in the director's chair, another funny girl was already calling the shots on a movie set. Surely you remember Joan Rivers' "Rabbit Test." When I interviewed Rivers for The New York Times in 1977, at least one of us seemed sure she was destined to be the next Mike Nichols--or, at least, Elaine May. --Guy Flatley

"Our hero is such a good boy, so I’m sure he’ll make a wonderful mother," says Joan Rivers.

The heartwarmingly virtuous hero under discussion is Billy Crystal, a versatile newcomer who will portray the world’s first pregnant man in "Rabbit Test," an original screenplay by Joan Rivers and Jay Redack which the blonde comedienne is now directing in Hollywood. Rivers was jolted by the inspiration for this tale while sitting under the dryer in a beauty salon.

"I was reading a movie magazine when all of a sudden a headline jumped out at me--‘Is Elliott Gould Pregnant?’ ‘Wow!’ I said to myself. ‘What a terrific idea for a movie. Too bad I didn’t think of it first.’ Then I realized that the story wasn’t about a movie at all; it was about Elliott’s wife."

It is conceivable that "Rabbit Test" will make a serious point or two about sexual identities and the nature of parenthood. "We’re not making any points; we’re just having a good time, making a silly movie about a poor schlep who becomes pregnant. I figure we’ve got something to offend just about every ethnic group except the Eskimos. Gay lib is in favor of the man having the baby, but women’s lib is against him because they feel he’s taking away their one unique function."

A few of the faces in the cast of "Rabbit Test" will be more familiar than those of Billy Crystal and Joan Prather, who plays his perplexed spouse."Roddy McDowall is playing a gypsy grandmother," Rivers ripples on, "and Imogene Coca is a crazed fortune teller. Paul Lynde is the obstetrician who discovers Billy is pregnant, Alex Rocco is Billy’s overtrained Green Beret brother, George Gobel is the President of the United States, Vincent Price is the Pope, and I’m going to play a small part, too. I wish I didn’t have to act in the movie, but that’s the deal I made. The thing that worries me is who’s going to say, ‘Hey, she stinks!’"

Rivers and Edgar Rosenberg, her producer--and husband--will follow "Rabbit Test" with two more movies, one about the Rumanian mafia and one about a broken-down comedienne. When pressed, the zany comedienne will concede that guffaws are not her only goal. "There is a terrifically moving scene at the end, when Billy decides not to get an abortion and he makes a big speech that is like something out of ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’ We focused our camera on Billy’s face and we never moved it. It was just divine. Of course, it should have been--we shot 19 takes."

Will Billy be the proud mama of a boy or a girl? "I can’t tell you, because that would spoil the ending. But I can tell you that we’ve taken out a policy with Lloyd’s of London, and any man who gets pregnant while watching ‘Rabbit Test’ will receive a $2 million settlement. But only if he’s married--we’re aiming for a PG rating."