A couple of weeks before, while going over a Variety list of the most popular songs of 1935 and earlier, to use for the picture’s sound track – which was going to consist only of vintage recording played not as score but as source music – my eye stopped on a .933 standard, words by E.Y. (“Yip”) Harburg (with producer Billy Rose), music by Harold Arlen, the team responsible for “Over the Rainbow”, among many notable others, together and separately. Legend had it that the fabulous Ms. Dorothy Parker contributed a couple of lines. There were just two words that popped out at me from the title of the Arlen-Harburg song, “It’s Only a Paper Moon”. Not only did the sentiment of the song encapsulate metaphorically the main relationship in our story –
Say, it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me
– the last two words of the title also seemed to me a damn good movie title.
Alvin and Polly agreed, but when I tried to take it to Frank Yablans, he wasn’t at all impressed and asked me what it meant. I tried to explain. He said that he didn’t “want us to have our first argument,” so why didn’t we table this conversation until the movie was finished? Peter Bart called after a while to remind me that, after all, the title Addie Pray was associated with a bestselling novel. I asked how many copies it had sold in hardcover. Peter said over a hundred thousand. That was a lot of books but not a lot of moviegoers. I made that point a bit sarcastically and Peter laughed dryly.
The next day I called Orson Welles in Rome, where he was editing a film. It was a bad connection so we had to speak slowly and yell: “Orson! What do you think of this title?!” I paused a beat or two, then said very clearly, slowly and with no particular emphasis or inflection: “Paper …Moon!” There was a silence for several moments, and then Orson said, loudly, “That title is so good, you don’t even need to make the picture! Just release the title!
Armed with that reaction, I called Alvin and said, “You remember those cardboard crescent moons they have at amusement parks – you sit in the moon and have a picture taken?” (Polly had an antique photo of her parents in one of them.) We already had an amusement park sequence in the script so, I continued to Alvin, “Let’s add a scene with one of those moons, then we can call the damn picture Paper Moon!” And this led eventually to a part of the ending, in which we used the photo Addie had taken of herself as a parting gift to Moze – alone in the moon because he was too busy with Trixie to sit with his daughter – that she leaves on the truck seat when he drops her off at her aunt’s house.
… After the huge popular success of the picture – four Oscar nominations (for Tatum, Madeline Kahn, the script, the sound) and Tatum won Best Supporting Actress (though she was the lead) – the studio proposed that we do a sequel, using the second half of the novel, keeping Tatum and casting Mae West as the old lady; they suggested we call the new film Harvest Moon. I declined. Later, a television series was proposed, and although I didn’t want to be involved (Alvin Sargent became story editor), I agreed to approve the final casting, which ended up being Jodie Foster and Chris Connolly, both also blondes. When Frank Yablans double-checked about my involvement, I passed again, saying I didn’t think the show would work in color – too cute – and suggested they title the series The Adventures of Addie Pray. But Frank said, “Are you kidding!? We’re calling it Paper Moon - that’s a million-dollar title!” The series ran thirteen episodes.