Back in the mid 2000’s, I was fortunate enough to be a producer on a very special little film called The Life Of Reilly. The film starred Charles Nelson Reilly, who was mostly known for his captain’s hat and innuendo on such game show fare as The Match Game. But he was much more than that. He was in the original Broadway productions of Bye Bye Birdie and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, the latter of which earned him a Tony award (and he was nominated again for Hello Dolly).
He went on to be on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson about a bizillion times and appear in as much TV and film as seemingly was being made at the time. He was also one of the few openly gay actors working at the time. Sort of. Charles never affirmed his sexuality, nor did he deny it, until his one-man show Save It For The Stage: The Life Of Reilly (the stage show was directed by the great Paul Linke). It was that show that our film’s directors, Barry Poltermann and Frank Anderson, saw that led to the filming of The Life Of Reilly (2006).
We premiered the film at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Sadly, Charles was too sick to attend. Sadder still, he died a short time after. Charles told Barry after watching a cut of the film that he felt this was the movie his whole life had led up to making. A hefty compliment, and a testament to the directors, and, Charles himself.
The film went on to be one of the best reviewed of 2007, when we released it theatrically. It’s currently #2 on RottenTomatoes’ list of best films of 2007.
It was Charles’ last performance, and final appearance on screen.
The DVD and Blu-ray also feature a commentary track from interviews with some of Charles’ pals like Dom DeLuise, Anne Meara, Burt Reynolds, and Jerry Stiller (which are from interviews that I shot – and, yes, to a person, they were all extremely kind, gracious people).