Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann, self-destructive screen swashbuckler
New York City, Fall 1954
Film: My Favorite Year
Release Date: October 8, 1982
Director: Richard Benjamin
Costume Designer: May Routh
Today would have been the 90th birthday of Peter O’Toole, legend of stage and screen. Though he was ultimately presented with an Academy Honorary Award, O’Toole holds the dubious distinction of having received the most Academy Award nominations without a win. One of his eight nominations was for the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year, Richard Benjamin’s directorial debut written by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo, set behind the scenes at NBC’s famous studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza during the Golden Age of live television.
“1954. You don’t get years like that anymore… it was my favorite year,” begins the narration by Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), a junior comedy writer reportedly based on Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, who had both written for Your Show of Shows in the early ’50s. The story was inspired by Errol Flynn’s real-life guest appearance on Your Show of Shows, with Flynn reimagined as the erratic Alan Swann. Benjy describes Swann as the greatest screen idol of all time, despite his boss dismissing Swann’s performances as no more than “kissing and jumping and drinking and humping.”
Richard Benjamin explained in an interview with Donald Leibenson that “in the original script, there’s a scene which I shot that would have played after what’s in the movie. It took place in a Hollywood cemetery, and Benjy is walking past the gravestones. He says in voiceover that Alan Swann made him promise he would do something on his birthday every year. Alan has passed away, and Benjy comes to his grave, kneels down and pours a bottle of Courvoisier over the tombstone. That’s what’s on the last page. Peter asked me to read the date that was on the tombstone. It was Aug. 2. He said, ‘Aug. 2 is my birthday; did you know that?’ I asked Norman if he knew that, and Norman said no, he had made it up. And Peter says, ‘Therefore, I must do the film.'”
What’d He Wear?
“This is the way people dressed in 1954. Smooth, huh?” Benjy’s narration refers to a small squad of leather-clad bikers, but it could just as easily refer to Alan Swann, who makes his grand entrance into the Comedy Cavalcade writers’ room in a cream double-breasted suit. Appropriate for a flamboyant performer of Swann’s success, the suit was made of raw silk, as confirmed by its Heritage Auctions listing.
Swann’s loyal chauffeur Alfie (Tony DiBenedetto) confides in Benjy that “I had this made special for when he travels… called it his ‘drunk suit,'” as it’s been rigged with secret side snaps built into the jacket and trousers to easily extract the inebriated actor from his clothing.
The double-breasted jacket has wide peak lapels and a square 4×2-button configuration that lacks the upper pair of vestigial buttons. Swann’s jacket has padded shoulders, double vents, three-button cuffs, straight flapped hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket that he dresses with a scarlet silk kerchief. He completes the rakish look by affixing a white boutonnière to his left lapel.
Swann’s matching trousers have two sets of reverse-facing pleats, slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. Through the belt loops, he wears a cream-colored belt that matches the suit and fastens through what appears to be a brown leather-covered single-prong buckle.
“I have to remind him to work on some tearaway shoes,” Alfie adds as he pulls off Swann’s brown suede cap-toe oxfords, which he wears with dark green semi-ribbed socks that Benjy deadpans “must be his drinking socks” after finding more pairs packed among three bottles of Scotch.
Swann wears a cornflower blue cotton shirt with a white banker stripe. Detailed with a spread collar, single-button squared barrel cuffs, and six white buttons up the plain (French) front, the shirt appears to be the only part of Swann’s traveling suit not built with Alfie’s tearaway snaps as he still wears it buttoned to the neck when he’s submerged in his bath.
Even Swann’s tie appears to be built for swift removal, much like children (or inexperienced tie wearers) often wear pre-tied clip-on ties. The tie pulls together the colors of his outfit in a patriotic-hued strip of silk, with wide burgundy and navy “downhill”-directional block stripes, embellished with a fancy tonal self-paisley design within the stripe and bisected by narrow burgundy-bordered white stripes.
Throughout My Favorite Year, Swann also wears a beige felt fedora with a black grosgrain band. In fact, he continues wearing the hat even after Alfie has removed his suit, stripping him down to his shirt, shoes, and skivvies, the latter being a pair of “whitey-tighty” white cotton briefs.
“I’m not allowed to wear a watch,” Swann tells a nubile bedmate, adding “I don’t trust them… one hand is shorter than the other.” Swann’s sole piece of jewelry is a gold ring that he wears on the middle finger of his right hand.
What to Imbibe
“He’s plastered!” exclaims Sy Benson (Bill Macy) upon Alan Swann’s flamboyant entrance to the writers’ room. “If I were truly plastered, could I do this?” Swann challenges in response before rolling backward onto their table. “Well, we know he can do that,” deadpans the show’s star, Stan “King” Kaiser.
Swann surrounds himself with easy access to spirits, particularly his preferred Haig & Haig Dimple Pinch, recognizable for its distinctive three-sided bottle. Haig whisky had been distilled for nearly two centuries by the time the “dimpled” bottle was introduced in the 1890s, and it has since appeared as a favorite of fictional characters ranging from the literary James Bond to meth manufacturer Walter White (Bryan Cranston) on Breaking Bad. Fans of The Godfather may also recognize Haig Dimple as the whisky shared by Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) when the consigliere needs to brace himself with a drink before breaking the bad news of Sonny’s death to the Don.
“He always has one secret bottle hidden away for emergencies,” Alfie notes of Swann as he finds some Haig tucked away in Swann’s camel coat, after Benjy marvels at the stash of bottles swathed among his “drinking socks”.
Swann’s hard-drinking habits may have been inspired by Errol Flynn, though the famous hell-raiser O’Toole had his own troubled history with alcoholism. After health issues, countless hangovers, and embarrassments, O’Toole had resolved to slow down his boozing by the early 1980s, just in time to parody the antics of an aging alcoholic actor in My Favorite Year.
How to Get the Look
Alan Swann appears dressed to impress when he bounces through the Comedy Cavalcade writers’ room in his cream-colored silk suit, colorfully appointed with blue striped shirt, scarlet display kerchief, and a striped tie that pulls the colors together… before his trusted chauffeur pulls all the clothing apart via a system of concealed snaps before submerging Swann into a bath intended to sober him up.
- Cream raw silk suit:
- Double-breasted jacket with peak lapels, 4×2-button front, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and double vents
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Cornflower blue (with white banker stripe) cotton shirt with spread collar, plain front, and 1-button squared barrel cuffs
- Burgundy and navy “downhill” block-striped tie with bisecting narrow white stripes and tonal self-paisley design
- Cream-colored belt with brown leather-covered single-prong buckle
- Brown suede cap-toe oxford shoes
- Dark green semi-ribbed socks
- White cotton briefs
- Beige felt fedora with black grosgrain band
- Gold ring
- Scarlet silk pocket square
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.