"The Model T was the 'it' car of the 1920s. It was the best selling vehicle at the time and everyone in Hollywood and beyond wanted one."
Marisa Bradley - Ford Motor Company - July 9, 2008
The ubiquitous Ford Model T
Ford’s glory years left far behind. Let us hope the company finds the notoriety it once garnered in the very near future for Ford’s and its employees sake. -- Ed.
DEARBORN, MI – The Ford Model T has had a long and storied Hollywood career, stretching from the silent-film era of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and the Keystone Cops to a drive-on role in this year's George Clooney film "Leatherheads."
In part, the Model T's popularity on the big screen comes because the car and the medium emerged at approximately the same time 100 years ago – and both became very popular almost overnight.
As the first moviemakers moved beyond static interior shots to the outdoors, it was only natural to capture the motion and movement created by the car. In that way, Hollywood reflected the changes brought on by the automobile and mass migration to cities.
While the Model T appears in the short films of such early Hollywood comedians as Keaton and Lloyd, it was the laugh-out-loud lunacy of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy that made the Model T a featured player.
In one of the last and funniest silent-era films, "Big Business," (1929) Laurel and Hardy are selling Christmas trees out of the back of a Model T truck. When a cranky neighbor rejects their pitch and the tree is damaged, the pair takes it out on the man's house as he inflicts reciprocal destruction on their vehicle.
A "Perfect Day," (1929) Laurel and Hardy's third talkie, features several gags on-board a Model T. When Ollie asks Stan to "throw out the clutch," he reaches down and does just that. In the end, the car drives into a puddle that swallows the pair, their passengers and the car.
In "Hog Wild," (1930) Hardy climbs a ladder mounted on Laurel's Model T to install a radio antenna and Laurel accidentally drives off with Hardy still clinging to the ladder. In the finale, the car gets crushed between two streetcars like an accordion – and ironically, seems to run better for it.
Another gimmick Model T was used in the duo's 1928 silent hit, "Two Tars." In that short film, Laurel and Hardy create havoc in a traffic jam and then escape in their Model T into a railroad tunnel. The resulting unseen collision with a train causes them to emerge in a roadster that's been squashed sideways – but still runs, of course.
That these were among Hollywood's earliest uses of cars tricked out for special effects doesn't surprise Uzielli.
"There were so many Model Ts back then that it was easy and pretty cheap to fabricate them for special effects in the movies," he said.
Rick Lindner agrees. The Columbus, Ohio, man is both a Model T owner and a Laurel and Hardy fan.
"I always enjoyed their movies, and they always used Model Ts, and I thought they looked like such fun cars. They were an everyman's car and practically indestructible, so that's why they used them," said Lindner, who heads a Laurel and Hardy fan club in Columbus.
All in all, the Model T turns up in more than 200 movies, according to the Internet Movie Cars Database, a Web site that catalogs vehicle appearances in films.
Often, it's seen in the background or in a brief drive-by shot that opens or closes a scene. Because the car is so firmly rooted in its era, it's frequently used as a kind of visual shorthand, to telegraph the time period in which the action is set.
As such, it appears in everything from "East of Eden" (1955) and "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) to "The Color Purple" (1985) and "Chicago" (2002).
Model Ts also appear in "Paper Moon," (1973) "The Natural" (1984) and "Legends of the Fall" (1994). They were also used extensively in the TV series "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" (1992-93) and were seen in this year's Oscar winner, "There Will Be Blood" (2007).
Even Hollywood's top animators have drawn the Model T into their productions. In TV's long-running show, "The Simpsons," one is driven by the irascible Mr. Burns, while in the full-length animated feature, "Cars," (2006) actress Katherine Helmond provides the voice for the character car Lizzie, a Model T.
Thanks to moviemaking magic, Model Ts have even been known to fly, as in the 1961 Disney comedy "The Absent-Minded Professor."
In that movie, a chemistry professor (played by Fred MacMurray) accidentally creates "flubber," a gravity-defying substance that's put to a variety of uses, including making a flying flivver out of his Model T. At the end of the movie, he pilots his flying "T" to Washington, D.C. and lands on the White House lawn where he's proclaimed a national hero.
Lindner saw the movie as a boy and it made a big impression on him. "I have a 1915 Model T touring car today because it is just like the one seen in 'The Absent-Minded Professor,' " he said.
The film earned an Oscar nomination for special effects. For the Model T, it was just another role for the co-star with the longest career in Hollywood.